Protesters demand dignity, rights for Australian Aborigines

By Janet Roth
February 18, 2019

SYDNEY — Tens of thousands demonstrated Jan. 26 across Australia in support of Aboriginal rights on “Invasion Day” rallies called to counter the capitalist rulers’ annual Australia Day. 

The holiday marks the anniversary of the founding of the British convict settlement at Sydney Cove in 1788. Colonial settler forces fought brutal frontier wars against the continent’s indigenous inhabitants to dispossess them of their land and culture. The “Invasion Day” protests bring attention to this history, and to the continuing abuse, discrimination and attacks on rights. These demonstrations have been growing in size in recent years.  

“They should get charged with murder,” Leetona Dungay told the rally here, referring to the prison guards who killed her son, David Dungay Jr., 26, at Sydney’s Long Bay jail in December 2015. 

“They stormed his cell because he refused to stop eating biscuits. He said 12 times to them, ‘I can’t breathe!’” said Paul Silva, David Dungay’s nephew. He invited everyone to join the family at the March 4 court hearing into Dungay’s death. 

Over the last decade 147 indigenous people have died in custody. Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders make up 28 percent of those in adult prisons and 54 percent of those in youth detention, despite being 3 percent of the population. 

Sue-Ellen Tighe, from Grandmothers Against Removals, condemned a new adoption law passed in New South Wales last November affecting children in state care. “They can remove an Aboriginal child and adopt out without informed consent” of their parents or guardians, she said at the Sydney demonstration. 

“Our removal rates are above anywhere else in the world. These policies need to be halted now. Never again, ‘Stolen Generations,’” said Tighe. She was referring to the aggressive assimilationist policies of the Australian rulers who forcibly removed an estimated 10 to 33 percent of all indigenous children from their families between 1910 and 1970. 

Protesters also expressed concern at the rising number of indigenous youth committing suicide. “We lost five young ones in the last couple of weeks,” Wurundjeri elder Di Kerr told the rally in Melbourne. 

Linda Harris, Communist League candidate for the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, joined the protest and campaigned with supporters at the Yabun festival of indigenous music and culture, where the Sydney march ended. “The capitalist rulers use this day to promote the myth we are all Australians with common interests. But we are class-divided — there is no ‘we,’” she told those she met. 

“The unions need to be part of the fight against Aboriginal deaths in custody. It’s by working people joining together in struggle that we can build a movement to take political power and open the door for working people to take decisive steps to end discrimination and oppression,” she said.