Protect Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Walk (Held Saturday 23 October, 2021)
PROTECT ABORIGINAL CULTURAL HERITAGE WALK
On Saturday, 23 October 2021, Traditional Owners and their supporters gathered at Perth’s Victoria Gardens for the ‘Protect Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Walk’. Over the course of the event, around 800 people joined in a show of solidarity to oppose the State Government’s draft Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2021 (ACHB).
People from across the state travelled to Perth to take part. Proceedings commenced with a Welcome to Country conducted by Noongar Elder Mr John McGuire, which was followed by a response from Martu Elder Mr Bruce Thomas. Walkers then proceeded to the Derbal Yerrigan (Swan River) foreshore and across the Matagarup Bridge. Accompanied by traditional singing from Mr Thomas as they made their way, their message was chanted loud and clear: “No Veto, No Bill”.
Eventually assembling outside Optus Stadium – a stone’s throw from the symbolic Nicky Winmar statue – attendees were then introduced to several notable speakers by South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (SWALSC) Chair Mr Brendan Moore, including: Mrs Geri Hayden (Noongar – South West), Mr Clayton Lewis (Nhanda Widi – Yamatji), Mr Dwayne Mallard (Wajarri Nanda – Yamatji), Mr Richard Evans (Kuwarra-Tjalkadjara – Goldfields), Mrs Pat Mason (Kariyarra – Pilbara), and Mrs Doris Eaton (Njamal and Pitjakarli – Pilbara).
Each representative spoke passionately about why Aboriginal cultural heritage matters, their grave concerns about government processes in finalising the ACHB, and issues with its contents. They collectively delivered a clear message to government: the ongoing desecration of Aboriginal cultural heritage has created great sorrow, and the ACHB does not go far enough to stop this from happening. Instead, they advised government it needs to work with Traditional Owners to co-design legislation that would protect culture and heritage.
Consultation is not consent.
The walk was organised at the request of Traditional Owners from across WA, and coordinated in partnership by SWALSC, Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation (YMAC), Native Title Services Goldfields (NTSG), and the National Native Title Council (NNTC).
“We all come here from different nations – but we all have to stick together for one cause… We all have the same law. All we want to say is ‘no’. We are not supporting this bill until government comes back and rewrites this with us.”
- Doris Eaton (Njamal and Pitjakarli)
“There’s a couple of fundamental issues with [the bill]. Obviously, a really great sticking point at the front end is the voice – or lack of; that there’s no right to veto. For human begins that descend from the oldest continuous culture in the world, to be told in law that we actually have no right to say no to the desecration and destruction of the very culture we are born into – for a culture that’s 65,000-plus-years-old – it’s just no longer acceptable. It was never acceptable.”
- Dwayne Mallard (Wajarri Nanda)
“The big thing, especially from the messages you have heard today and over the last few years from the mob, is that [the bill] doesn’t reach the standard of prior and informed consent. You heard that strong today. The days of doing things about Aboriginal people without Aboriginal people are over. Aboriginal people want to be designers of this bill, and also in the operations of it. They need to be in charge of that.”
- Jamie Lowe (Djabwurrung-Gunditjmara (Victoria), and CEO of NNTC)
“There’s a number of issues. If I had to pick one, that main one would be that the Minister has sole right in the end to say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on destruction. After all of the various reports – and he’s a person with no cultural authority. [The bill] is written by public servants here in Perth. They have no cultural authority and know nothing about heritage sites in the regions.”
- Clayton Lewis (Nhanda Widi, and co-founder of Aboriginal Heritage Action Alliance)
“The voices in the desert are crying. They’ve said, “Leave it alone. Don’t touch it.” The people in the desert are weeping, and mourning for their land. They are tired, because the government never, ever listens. They have never listened to the people.”
- Sandra Evans (Spinifex)