I am extremely proud to report on a successful event, called by Gundungurra Elder Aunty Trish Levett, celebrating Black (Aboriginal) Lives Matter.
This is a world wide movement, and it is calling for Racial Justice and Criminal Justice Reform here in NSW and Australia, now.
There was an excessive, undemocratic and intimidating police presence; this was regrettable.
But the police behaved well and did not impede our ceremony directly, this is appreciated.
150-200 Southern Highlanders bravely made their feelings known by attending in the quadrangle outside Bowral Library.
There is no doubt without the absurdity of The Riot Squad from Sydney (they must have nothing to do) and police intimidation, many hundreds more would have been present.
We behaved peacefully, responsibly and kept 1.5m distance, Aunty Trish handed out face masks.
Aunty Trish opened the event with a welcome to her country, the country of the Gundungurra People.
She then conducted a smoking ceremony to cleanse and protect all the participants.
Alistair painted us up with Ochre.
Aunty Trish presented a magnificent banner to Jarrah and Jovie, the grieving sister and brother of Tane Chatfield, slwho died in prison a day before his likely release in 2017- yet another death in custody.
WRG proudly paid for the banner, designed pro-bono by Claire Johnson of Bundanoon.
Trish then spoke powerfully of the continuing injustice that has Aboriginal people targeted by police and treated unfairly by the courts - a fact apparent in the devastating statistic that Aboriginal men are 16 times more likely to be incarcerated than Non-Aboriginal men (Australian Bureau of Statistics figures).
The rate has doubled since the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Royal Commission in 1991, the recommendations are still not enacted.
Incarceration and brutal treatment by the law and society is traumatising Aboriginal people, and their families who are left behind, alone, sad and without a breadwinner.
This must stop - Aboriginal people have been traumatised enough!
Trish then called on Gus Johnson, Chair of WRG to speak.
I began with the slogan and mantra; "Love and Respect Aboriginal People".
I re-iterated the demand to stop imprisoning and traumatising Aboriginal people.
Excessive and increasing Law Enforcement budgets are not making us any safer.
Law enforcement must be defunded to traditional levels and those funds immediately put into expert designed Trauma Counselling, Social Services, Infrastructure and Education in Aboriginal communities.
Trauma Counselling is essential to reduce re-offence and bring the healing to Aboriginal people so they can return to their families.
Another reason for the injustice is racist attitudes towards Aboriginal people in the Non-Aboriginal community.
A massive longterm study released this month by The Australian National University (ANU) painted a disturbing picture - three out of four Non-Aboriginal Australians still hold conscious or unconscious racist views towards Aboriginals.
I called on all of people of conscience to speak up whenever hearing racist jokes or opinions.
We must correct the record and take on the challenge of changing attitudes.
Then with some difficulty and harassment, we marched past the police lines, in small groups due to discriminatory treatment under the guise of Covid restrictions - indeed we saw hundreds of people on Bowral's main street of Bong Bong, unmolested, standing shoulder to shoulder outside a cake shop.
It was busy, bustling Bowral, shops crowded, business as usual.
Our small groups reunited, proudly raised our banners and sang a chorus down Bong Bong Street - "Black Lives Matter", and "Trauma Counselling Not Incarceration."
It was a magnificent sight - members of the public voiced their approval and many cars honked horns in support!
Thank-you to all who attended and helped- Alistair, Rachel, Rachael, Katchmirr, Jasmine, Uncle Dave Bell, Matthew, Kim, Sally, Mike, Stuart, Leanne, Theresa and hundreds more - You are the true heroes of the Southern Highlands!
Trish and I love and appreciate you all.
The event was publicised through Aunty Trish, Gus' piece in the Southern Highlands News, and before and after reports by Gus on 2ST. Signs posted by WRG volunteers. Facebook by Kim Leevers and Twitter by Mike Meldrum.
We send our respects and love to Aunty Val Mulchay, Gundungurra senior elder, who is ill in hospital.
Aunty Val has always appreciated our work and given us her blessing.
Thankyou Aunty Val and get well to take up the fight again!
Please share and keep the message loud and proud - Black Lives Matter, Aboriginal Lives Matter, Trauma Counselling NOT Incarceration.
See you on the streets - Strong, Proud and in Love and Respect.
Wingecarribee Reconciliation Group (WRG)
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