A spontaneous rally held in Melbourne on Friday 13 March has sparked a national call to action by Aboriginal activists across Australia, with rallies set for today at 4pm.
This comes after WA premier Colin Barnett’s recent announcement that the state government will no longer provide municipal services to 150 of 274 remote aboriginal communities in the state.
The community closures are expected to occur in June of this year, after the federal government’s funding of remote Aboriginal communities in WA expires. Indigenous leaders affiliated with the Nyoongar tent embassy in WA have said they are expecting 20,000 refugees as a result of the closures.
The initial Black Friday Rally in Melbourne was organised less than 24 hours before the event by a group known as the Warriors of the Aboriginal resistance or WAR, and has inspired subsequent protests around Australia. “I thought 50 people would show up,” says Melbourne organiser and WAR member Meriki Onus, “and then it went viral.”
Over 1,000 protestors turned up to the Black Friday rally held at the National Gallery of Victoria on 13 March. The rally intended to disrupt a dinner rumoured to be attended by Tony Abbott. However, a police spokesperson has said that Tony Abbott was not present.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott stirred controversy recently when he said that living in remote communities was a “lifestyle” that could no longer be subsidised by the government. “His statements were hurtful to Aboriginal people,” says Meriki.
Following the Black Friday pop-up rally, Indigenous activists across Australia have called for an international activist campaign through the Facebook page titled “Stop the Forced Closures of Aboriginal Communities in Australia.” A press release posted on the page shortly after the Black Friday Rally announced a national call to action with several rallies planned across the country.
The page is coordinated by a collective of Indigenous leaders and activists with roots in remote communities facing closure in WA. It was created on the day of the Black Friday rally and reached 40,000 likes in only 12 days. According to organisers, the message reached over one million people worldwide.
Organiser Sam Cook says the page was created to increase the visibility of protests and actions around Australia with regards to the community closures. She says the call to action first came from Kimberley women and activists. Those with families and roots in the affected communities have been at the forefront of the campaign’s national organising.
On Thursday the 19th, subsequent protests were held in cities, including Perth, Brisbane, and Sydney. A total of 30 events were held nationwide. A rally held at Melbourne’s parliament house drew an estimated 2,000 people. Protestors chanted “no pride in genocide” and “Shame Abbott Shame.” Tram lines were disrupted by the march.
Rallies around the country drew similar numbers. Addressing protestors at a rally in Perth, Mr Barnett attempted to link the closures to child health and safety in remote communities. The protestors vehemently disagreed.
“People can and will continue to remain on their homelands” says Sam. According to her, the group is doing more than simply organising rallies. She says activist are also data-basing in order to piece together “community-led humanitarian action to support and replace infrastructure into the community” once the closures occur.
“People around Australia and the world are disgusted by what’s happening here” says Meriki. Hashtags #sosblakaustralia, #noconsent and #lifestylechoices have been trending internationally as part of the campaign’s online “virtual protest.”
Celebrities such as Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and various Indigenous AFL players have taken part in the “virtual protest” by posting photos of themselves with posters denouncing the proposed closures.
Follow up rallies are scheduled for today in cities across Australia. At the time of writing, 14,000 Facebook users had RSVP’d to attend the Melbourne Rally.