MF = Mahmood Fazal
DX = Daniel Stewart
GF = Gary Foley
JK = Jacqui Katona
MF: In this episode of Mont Icons, we speak to Professor Gary Foley and activist Jacqui Katona. Professor Gary Foley is an activist, academic, dissident writer and an actor. He’s known for his role in establishing the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra, the Aboriginal Legal Service in Redfern, and he was a key figure in the Black Power Movement, the National Black Theatre and the list goes on. Jacqui Katona is an Aboriginal activist and advocate. Jacqui worked with a family to block the uranium mining from Jabba Loca in Kakadu National Park. She's worked with the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody, and the stolen generations in the Northern Territory.
I will foreground this by saying I, as many of us, need to do more we need to listen more and learn more about the languages, culture and history of First Nations peoples. Growing up within the context of colonial education system, it took me admittedly a long time to find some semblance of the truth, the bloodshed and the horrible history of this place. So thank you for joining us. We're here to learn and be energised by your resilient spirit. Thank you so much.
I just want to start by hearing from you both what politicised you and your youth?
GF: In my case, it's pretty much on the historical record that at the age of 17, freshly arrived in Sydney from rural New South Wales, I got a rather severe bashing from a couple of thugs from the New South Wales Police Force, more precisely the 21 division of the New South Wales Police Force. And a week or so after that, I was handed a book by a man called Paul Co when I was complaining about what had happened to me, he said read this. The book was the autobiography of Malcolm X. And those two incidents are what, in essence, well, that's where I began; my politicisation and my self education.
MF: And what about for you, Jacqui?
JK: Ah, well, when I was young, probably less than 10 years old, we had moved my family and I to Canberra. And it was just around the time that the Tent Embassy had been established. And the great renewal of public demonstrations of Aboriginal culture, politics, and life was released centre stage for me as a child. And I think a lot of people shared this view of the Whitlam era where we thought that life would continue, where Aboriginal people would be genuinely part of Australian society. Unfortunately, that turned out to be more of an aberration in the context of broader history in the liberal coalition, conservative politics, but that really set for me an expectation that black was beautiful. And that publicly It was so important to be within the community’s vision.
MF: And so you moved there from Northern Territory?
JK: We moved from the Snowy Mountains. Both my parents worked on the Snowy Mountains authority. My mother was removed from her family as a child. So, myself and my brother and sister, were all born in New South Wales.
MF: Alright. Okay. And I know you mentioned travelling from rural into Sydney, and that was quite there was a lot of Aboriginal people moving from rural New South Wales to the city, right, around that time? Was that right, Gary?
GF: Correct. The old apartheid system that had existed in New South While was in the process of breaking out, and my generation was the first generation of Aboriginal people in New South Wales who had some degree of freedom of movement. And the nature of the country town in which I was living, was such that I decided to get out of there. In rural New South Wales at the time, segregation was rife. Racism was rife. And things were very difficult in the country. So I took the opportunity when I was offered a job in Sydney, as an apprentice draftsperson, I grabbed that opportunity. But upon arrival in Sydney, I've got a few very early lessons in what city life was like for Aboriginal people.
MF: What did that look like? Illustrate that.
GF: It looked like Redfern.
MF: I’ve been to Redfern and it looks quite different.
GF: Now, yes, just as Fitzroy looks quite different now,
MF: but a lot of cafes and avocado on toast.
GF: But in Redfern in the late 1960s, from about 1967, around the time of the referendum, to 1969, there was this mass exodus of Aboriginal people from the rural areas in New South Wales as the the old concentration camp-style apartheid system of New South Wales Government was breaking up. So this mass exodus of people from the rural areas was mainly people who were, you know, they were landless refugees in their own land, if you like. And the only place in Sydney back in those days where Aboriginal people could find accommodation with was in the slums, which is what Redfern was in those days. And so this huge Aboriginal community grew in the space of three years. I've always said that when I moved to Sydney in about ‘67 into ‘66, there were about 1500 Aboriginal people in Redfern and within three years, there were 35,000; the biggest Aboriginal community that's ever existed in 80,000 year history of Australia. And the one thing that everyone in that community had in common was poverty. We were many different mobs from many different places. Most of us had sort of grown up and, and been subjected to the older imposed assimilation system that the New South Wales, well was federal government policy until 1972, and things were tough. But in Redfern in particular, as a young person, the first thing that I observed, like just about everybody else arriving in Redfern was that there was a sort of a state of siege in effect. Police harassment, victimisation, brutalization, picking up people on trump charges, bashing people in the cells was rife. And there was very little it seemed that people could do about it. But we ended up doing something about it in the long run, in the form of what emerged to be the, what they call the Australian Black Power movement.
MF: And was there anything that specifically sparked that movement? Was there any specific incidents? Or was it just there was so much of that going on that people had to kind of collectively galvanise and get together?
GF: The roots of it, what happened in Redfern in the late 60s, early 70s, rested in the decade or more leading up to it. And it didn't just involve what was going on in Australia and in New South Wales, what was happening to us. We're also conscious, I mean, again, my generation was the first generation of Aboriginal peoples and probably Australian people too, sort of, towards the end of our childhood. experience television. Which brought to us the world you know, prior to that. All it was was radio, there was no mobile phones, there was no internet, there was no instant communication. And television exposed other things that were happening in the world to us. Things that were happening in Africa, as Africa decolonized. Some of the independence movements, we heard about him on television, and we read about him in books, we sought out information. We're interested in what was going on in the world. We're interested in the American Civil Rights Movement, because we can see that some of the things that we saw them fighting against segregation and things like that, these things we'd grown up. With the deeply embedded racism in the United States of America, Australia was very much a mirror of that, then and today. And so there were many, many things that led to the Black Power movement. Already, Malcolm X, was a significant thing. We were particularly interested in the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California. We saw, we were interested in their social programmes, we were interested in their breakfast programmes for kids.
MF: Was this the first time you heard about the Black Panther, or you saw what was going on there? How did you get that information? Because that would have been hard to come by. Right, because this is pre-internet days, you couldn't just Google it. How did you come across that and that information?
GF: Courtesy of the US military. I mean, in the late 1960s, Sydney became a place where the American military decided was a safe place to send their troops in weird name on what they call our RR, or Rest and Recuperation. So suddenly, Sydney was awash with these yank soldiers. And a significant portion of the American soldiers coming into Sydney were African Americans. We very quickly observed that the cannon fodder the American military was using in Vietnam were African Americans and poor whites. But many of these African American soldiers arrived in Sydney. And they say, ‘Hey, where's the black community?’, there is no black community, except for us. And so we, many, of the soldiers came in, visited Redfern, and established relationships. And they bought with them some interesting things. They bought with some really good weed. But more importantly, they bought with some, not only the current African American political literature direct from the states that you couldn't get in Australia, but they also bought firsthand stories about what was going on in places like Oakland. And they, you know, through them, we, you know, the Aboriginal, the uneducated, poverty stricken Aboriginal activists in Redfern, probably ended up knowing more about what was going on in America in the late 1960s. And most Australians, we were very conscious of what was happening with not just the, you know, not just the Black Panther Party, we were particularly interested in them, because we actually ended up copying some of their ideas and adapting and adopting them to the Australian context. But we're also that also led us into a greater understanding of other more relevant mobs, like the Native American people. We establish contact relations for the American Indians movement. We were blown away by what the American Indian Movement did with their occupation of Alcatraz and San Francisco Bay. And you could argue, in part that was part of the inspiration for the 1972 Aboriginal embassy. You know, so we were, we were looking at many things that were happening in many other parts of the world that we were, that we thought we identified with, we were analysing them in the context of our own situation that confronted us. And that led us to look at other situations to like what Fidel and Shay Gurara had done in Cuba, and what was going on in Cuba and the confrontations that Cubans were having with the Americans. We were interested in what was going on in Vietnam, because, you know, they, I came up, my number came up for the draft. And I managed to get out of it, but I could have easily been conscripted and sent to Vietnam. And there was no way I was going to do that in this for the same reasons what, in part for the same reason what Muhammad Ali said, he said, ‘No, Vietcong ever called me a nigger’. And pretty much we felt the same. And so we were watching very closely because we didn't see the Vietnam War and the way in which it was being publicised in Australia by the mainstream media as being some sort of a war against communists, we saw people fighting for their own independence, and we understood and related to what that meant, and why it was important. Because in most ways, we were essentially fighting a similar sort of struggle here. So we related to people who were involved in struggles for their own independence and self-determination. We saw Vietnam in that context. And we saw many of the events that were going on in Africa. In the same context, we were, you know, when we learned of what had happened to Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, we related to that.
And so we were at the same time. I mean, the other thing in Redfern, in this, in the late 60s, early 70s, there were a lot of as many nations in Africa and Asia decolonized, many of the future leaders were actually studying at Australian universities. And we met some of those people. And we were able to learn from them also, about the details of their history of colonialism, and they struggle against it, and we formed some pretty long lasting relationships. And also at the same time, we were forming contacts and relationships with people indigenous people in the Pacific, the mores in New Zealand, we formed a strong connection alliance with an organisation called Nam Tamatoa, which was pretty much the equivalent of the New Zealand version of the Black Power Movement. We had connections with Tahiti activists, activist in Kanaky in New Caledonia. We had close relations with some of the future leaders and activists from Papua New Guinea and so on. As a group of young and educated Aboriginal mob from Bush, New South Wales. We educated our selves fairly swiftly. And we, you know, we also had the advantage of having some of the old political fighters like Dixon, who was a mentor to myself, Jaqui and many others in the movement while he was alive. And so that's more or less how the Black Power Movement came about in Australia.
MF: That’s awesome. I just want to talk about something we touched on briefly before we entered the studio, and that was the police back then being so overtly connected to crime in the underworld, and in turn, introducing drugs, and particularly using that as a form of weapon weaponizing and controlling, you know, Redfern.
GF: It's still a bit of a sensitive, sensitive subject, 15 years later. But what I can and will say, is that at one point in the early days, I mean, one of the major factors that stimulated a small group of Aboriginal people to come together in Redfern, young people, and talk about what we saw as a problem was, was the issue of police brutality. And in the course of us, trying to counter find ways to counter and resist that sort of brutality that was going on. We were resisted by certain elements in the Redfern police force in New South Wales Police Force in our activities. And they created a confidential dossier on us, which had all sorts of outrageous allegations about us. But they were determined to discredit and undermine us. And one of the one of the things we found out in the course of that was the certain corrupt police officers in the New South Wales 21 division were in the process of trying to establish a heroin market amongst Aboriginal people in Redfern. Which would have been, you know, a disaster if they'd managed to pull it off in at the time when they were trying to do it. We resisted him in this and it's a long story, which I don't want to go into. But it did illustrate, again, the context in which we were trying to politically organise and operate. I mean, it is now you know, a simple fact of history that historians have written about, that the Askin government that particularly the period of the Askin government in New South Wales, was one of the most the Askin government was one of the most notoriously corrupt governments in the history of New South Wales, which is really saying something, you know. And not only that, the Askin government as a corrupt government, it necessarily followed as was later historically proven that the entire New South Wales Police Force was riddled with the same sort of corruption and so we weren't just in Redfern up against a simple issue of police beating up black fellas and trying to keep them in their place, there were also other insidious factors in operation at the same time. And that, and the fact that most of us from the Black Power Movement, at least made it into the 1980s live and live in was a bit remarkable when you think about what was going on then.
MF: And Jacqui, did a lot of your inspiration come from? Did it come from America, when you were getting involved in activism? Or and how did you first come across that information and that inspiration?
JK: I had the great advantage of seeing Gary and his contemporaries defend our participation in Australian society in the most basic and fundamental terms, that Aboriginal people shouldn't be regarded as being the downtrodden second class citizens. That was often the perception in Australian society that we had as much if not more, to contribute to a better future for all of Australia. And it was those essential messages that was constantly part of the campaigning that they did. That really influenced me to believe that that was possible. I wasn't living on a mission and have no life experience of that type of overt control. But I came to understand through the experiences of other members of my family when I was reunited with them in the Northern Territory. I came to understand intimately what overt punishment, dislocation, disposition and segregation brought about for our people. And it was something that still creates the passion for me to think that discrimination, I mean, discrimination is really somewhat unacceptable word. Discrimination is painful, discrimination is isolating. Discrimination makes you second guess yourself. And to do that to another human being, I find intolerable and my motivation to fight for the recognition of rights of Aboriginal people in Australia stems from my understanding of how that impacted my family.
MF: How old were you when you went back to the Northern Territory?
JK: Well, my mother was reunited with her mother when I was about 16. So it had been thirty odd years since she'd been reunited with her mother. And they were indoctrinated when they were institutionalised as children to believe that their parents had died, and believe that if they hadn't died, that they were either criminals or prostitutes, or in had fallen prey to alcohol. So they used Christianity as a vehicle to essentially split the personality of Aboriginal identity. So that everything associated with being Aboriginal was to be negative, and to be capturing your life in a downward spiral, to discourage children from pursuing a reunion with their family members, but to discourage them from seeing their Aboriginal identities something positive, and the indoctrination was very effective. Nonetheless, there are many Aboriginal people who were able to reunite after many years searching for their families. And my mother was one of those thankfully. But going back to meet my grandmother for the first time, all I'd seen of Northern Territory Aboriginal communities were on the Four Corners programmes, which showed Aboriginal people living under corrugated iron with open fires, and no other form of housing. Still held economically and institutionally in segregated camps, effectively. And as a young Aboriginal woman who'd seen the advances of campaigning against segregation in New South Wales, to find out that the Northern Territory still harboured those practices, and lawful discrimination might have ended, but the it was set in stone socially. And is today, to a large extent as well. That, really, there was no other path for me but to take up a challenge to the paradigm that continues to subjugate Aboriginal people.
MF: And Gary, you tried to challenge that propaganda in a very direct way with theatre and acting and stuff like that. Was that kind of an inspiration for that to try and, you know, let the public reimagine what it was, or try to battle that kind of identity?
GF: It’s something that I accidentally fell into. I mean, I saw a theatre production called Charles Is Up and Fighting. It was a show put on by an outfit called an Indiana theatre. This is an outfit that grew out of the old pram factory in Harlem. And that production featured Jack Charles, Bob Mazur, and a Polish actor or Polish Australian actor called Oliver Lewinsky. I saw that being performed in camera, must have been at the time of the Aboriginal embassy at, on campus at ANU, that blew me away. I mean, that was the first time that I saw the possibility of another means of communicating the sort of message that we were trying to get across at the time about self-determination and independence, and all the rest of it. And I've always said, I've told Jack Charles to his face on numerous occasions, probably more than I should have, that seeing him in that production was what made me realise the possibilities and then not long afterwards, Bob Meza when he set up the National Black Theatre in Redfern, which he had drawn inspiration from the National Black Theatre in Harlem. Bob Mazur, Bruce McGinnis, Jack Davis and Patsy Corowa were a deputation of Aboriginal people in to a black power conference in Atlanta, Georgia in 1970. On the way back Bob method called into Harlan was blown away by what he saw of black theatre in Harlem, came back, set up the National Theatre Company and Redfern. And he conned me into being part of this stage production now we're doing called Basically Black. And being in that show, I saw even more dramatically, because you know, you, you act in a film or something, you're there on set for five minutes, and you're gone, you maybe see yourself on screen a year or two later. But with theatre, you had that instant feedback. And given how intensely political and outrageous basically black was as a show and so confronting for wide audiences of that era, I mean, black, basically, black would still be capable is still confronting for some people when they say the TV version these days, you know, 50 years later, but the TV version was a watered down version of the stage production and to be able to get that instant feedback and see what worked and see what didn't. And, you know, talk to the audience afterwards was a brilliant thing. I still think that Basically Blacks was only good thing I ever did in my acting career if one could call it a career. But I mean it we were using every means possible to try and get our message across. The same thing applied when I was in Country Practice for nine episodes. You know, there was about me trying to get a message across about land rights, but it also was done in the context. Just prior to me being asked if I wanted to be a do a guest spot and Country Practice, I'd been having a brawl with these lunatic fringe fundamentalist Christians in South Australia, these evangelist who are roaming around the northwest of South Australia, evangelising Aborigines and telling them that land rights was the work of the devil. And if they, they believed in land rights, I would go to hell. And, you know, be doing something as evil as that I had a go at then. And when I had a go with them, they attacked back, they put me on the front cover of their magazine, the national magazine, effectively saying that I was an agent of the devil. And so we tried to sue them. But we couldn't find the obscure mysterious man in America who was behind them, you know. So when I was was off the part on Country Practice, I said, ‘Well, here's a chance for me to get back at these bastards’. And so I told Country Practice that I'd be happy to do a guest spot as long as I could choose my own character. And I said, I want to be an Aboriginal pastor, Christian pastor, who advocates land rights, you know. And it worked perfectly. I mean, ironically, being in a Country Practice, I got reached a greater number of Australians with the message I wanted to get across and I've ever reached, ever in my life.
MF: That's an important thing that I kind of wanted to touch on because you were working with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Was that also a way of trying to fix the system from within?
GF: No, absolutely. I was forced into it. I mean, I'd, I was living in Melbourne. My girlfriend was Hilary Saunders. Her father was the legendary war hero, Aboriginal war hero, Captain Red Saunders. And I went away to China for a month. And when I came back from China, I found out that everybody in my house in Melbourne moved out. And so I had nowhere to live. So I found out at the Hillary moved back to Canberra, so went back to Canberra. Her dad, let me stay in the house, which I was grateful for. But after a week, he pulled me aside and he said, ‘Hey son, don't you think it's time you got a job?’ And i was like, ‘Well, yes. Got any ideas?’. He said, and at the time bridge was working as one of the earliest Aboriginal you know, the earlier Aboriginal employees of the newly created department of Aboriginal Affairs. He said come in on Monday, and now go in and he talked the boss of the department Aboriginal Affairs, Barry Dexter into give me a job. He gave me a job as a journalist in the public relations section of the Republic Aboriginal Affairs, which meant that rather than trying to subvert from within I found myself writing the deep part of propaganda. And that's largely why only lasted about six weeks. And after three major incidents, the last one was too much for Barry Dexter and he sacked me.
MF: What was the last one? Can you tell us about what went down in that office?
GF: Let me make it clear for a start that Barry Dexter is the head of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. He's second secretary was a guy. And so one day, I was told by my boss, Mr. Dexter wants to see you about something, you know, minor. And I head up to Dexter's office. And I walk into the, into the space with the secretaries sitting behind his desk. And I said ‘Ay, is Dexter in?’, and he looked at me and he said, ‘It's Mr. Dexter to you’. And I went over to his desk and leaned over him, said straight to his face, ‘Is Dexter in?’ and he said, ‘Mr. Dexter’ so I hit him. And the other hilarious thing about this, this was at a time about early in the year there had been a siege at the department where an Aboriginal guy called Bobby McLeod had gone in with a gun and held up that apartment. And so ever since then, there's all these security guards you know, with guns mounted on the 16th floor of the MLC tower in Canberra. And they're supposed to be there protecting this, you know, the head of the department, all the senior staff. And so when I punch this guy in the in the face, I turned around, I walked out and the security guards, did nothing they just looked at me and stared at me, and I got back in the lift and went back down to my office, only to get back to my office and the phone rings in my boss's desk, and she says ‘Gary, Mr. Dexter wants to see ya’. I said, I think I was so bad. And he sacked me. And as he said, 40 years later, when we made friends again, Barry Dexter said that I was the only person that he sacked in his entire 35 year career in the public service, so I'm really quite proud of that.
MF: Is it true, I read online that he was also responsible for urging Hozier to spy on you?
GF: Absolutely. And I mean, I didn't find that out till 30 years later when, I mean, there was a rule at all Australian Government documents, including Asia files go to the National Archives after 30 years. So I waited 30 years and I started reading my ATO file. And I discovered very quickly that the main guy who kept on us was Barry Dexter. And, you know, if I'm to be honest, looking back reflecting, I can probably see why he thought he was justified in doing that. At the time you know, because sometimes we, you know, just for fun, we'd play jokes on him if we, if we weren't getting a headline about land rights, when we when we do something outrageous to get some headlines. And he all you needed to do was get into Hyde Park, throw a bit of black paint over Captain Cook, and the next day the Daily Mirror would be screaming headlines, ‘Black Power violence’, you know. And, you know, some of the loose talk that we were doing at the time, I can understand why maybe some of these people got paranoid, but it was rarely anything more than a bit of fun.
MF: I think your ATO file describes you as a man capable of violence?
GF: Indeed, it does. It's quite shocking. You know, if I was reading it by somebody else, I'd think ‘Well, that's a bit outrageous. He's a bastard, I won't go near him.’
MF: But on a serious note, some of the some what we're talking about, Black Panther, Malcolm X, autobiography; they're, you know, direct action and violence was used as a tool to achieve some some sort of progress. What do you, what do you make of that?
GF: Oh, all people need to do is re-watch Malcolm X's speeches on radio today. They still resonate, they still apply the police brutality that the Panthers and Malcolm X and and half of black America was talking about in the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s, and 70s is all still there. I mean, Black Lives Matter Movement is simply the latest manifestation of an attempt by African American people or people of colour in America to draw attention to it. But I think that recent events in America have started Americans at least facing up to the reality of the difference between the way in which the right-wing lunatics who invaded the Capitol the other day, the way they were treated by law enforcement authorities, as they say, in America. And the difference between what had happened with Black Lives Matter protests, you know, earlier in the year and and even to the most blind American, they can see, you know, that it's there's a difference in at least the debate about race in America. I was saying to Jaqui on the way over here, at least the debate about race in America is beginning to happen. There appears to be a bit of a realisation, occurring, but you know, remains to be seen. But at least that's happening in America. There's no such discussion. debate in Australia, you know. The best we get is the deputy Prime Minister, when he's asked about the right-wing lunatics who invade Washington, he starts talking about Black Lives Matter. And you know, the fact that he can get away with that with no real sort of backlash from mainstream media or mainstream Australian people is you know, says a lot about still the nature of Australia and their denialism about their own racism.
MF: Yeah, I mean, this is the essential question. Why do you think we choose to keep it under the rug in this society?
GF: Australians have been conditioned, since before Australia was Australia, since before Federation. Australians have been here, I have still, got this settler colonial mentality. They just don't understand, you know, and they don't they can't even. I mean, you mentioned to some historians of a massacre thta occurred here or somewhere else challenge and deny and denialism is still rife within the history departments of Australian universities, within almost the entire Australian education system. And there's an inability by public people and politicians to speak honestly, about the issue of racism. Most of them are not even conscious of it, the term white privilege, let alone what it means. You know, and so we're, we're very retarded, as a country in that sense. You know, the level of debate in Australia about issues of race is still very much on a juvenile sort of level. And very unsophisticated, and still very frustrated with somebody who's been around 50 years trying to correct that.
DX: I just wanted to ask, just on that kind of subject, what was your perspective on the way that local groups responded to Black Lives Matter here in Australia? It was, it's quite recent here. So I just wanted to hear how both of you felt about that.
JK: I think the general response to the issue of Black Lives Matter in Australia, it's been a long time coming. The Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody, which both Gary and I worked on, in the late 1980s, uncovered systemic racism, which was named by the Royal Commission. And the Royal Commission also investigated the issue of genocide of Aboriginal people. And the fact that frontier conflict was the underlying basis of the relationship, which was which had been continued, in practice by the police force, being the front line for the protection of the colony. And this is writ large in Australian society for every Aboriginal person. So for there to be this latent embryonic recognition in Australia, gave it a bit of a context of a fad. And we're still waiting to see any genuine outcomes. In spite of numerous investigations, inquiries, parliamentary scrutiny, public disdain, and outcries. There still is no change to the indiscriminate killing of Aboriginal people, either at the hands of police, or the hands of corrections staff.
MF: How do we respond to this? Like how has there not been a single conviction against any member of the police against any of these deaths in custody?
GF: Because politicians are scared of police unions. Police unions who are backed up by, in Australia, it is literally mostly Murdoch tabloids. Any election campaign, any state election campaign anywhere in Australia to this day, one of the key major issues according to the tabloid media and tabloid radio, is law and order. And I and every political campaign, there's promises of stronger and more stringent measures, more powers for police. And then people wonder why the people on the margins of society, the poor, and the non-whites end up being the victims of these, you know, increased sort of laws. But the other important thing, Jacqui mentioned the Royal Commission on Aboriginal deaths in custody now this was a multi-million dollar comprehensive investigation of a large number of Aboriginal deaths in custody, up until the time of the Royal Commission. The Royal Commission found, as Jacqui said, that probably the major problem of it all came from the fact that the Australian criminal justice system is systemically racist from the highest court in the land, right down to the sole copper in some country police station. The culture is one of racism. And that's, I mean, it's a scandal that 30 years after the Royal Commission, whose major recommendations were designed at preventing Aboriginal people from going to prison in the numbers that they were because 30 years ago, we had one of the highest incarceration rates of any peoples on earth. The incarceration rates was supposed to, according to, if the recommendations of the Royal Commission had been adopted, should have reduced the incarceration numbers. Instead, we've got almost twice as many Aboriginal people in incarcerated today than they were at the time of the Royal Commission. The systemic racism of the Australian criminal justice system has managed to contain and prevent any significant changes from coming about. And I've said for a long time that if people want to know what the status of Aboriginal people in Australia today is, just look at the incarceration rates, we are one of the most imprisoned people on earth. And most Australians are, you know, happily oblivious to this and they don't give a day. Nor to the politicians. In fact, the politicians, I'll save my comments on politicians.
MF: It’s definitely a very terrifying to hear you say you say that.
GF: I mean two of my grandchildren are incarcerated as I speak, you know, I mean. It's a problem, and an issue, that affects all Aboriginal families in the same way as the stolen children issue affects every single Aboriginal family in this country. So too, does the incarceration rates of Aboriginal people in this country. And it doesn't matter how flashy and how big a professor or, or, you know, how good or how good a big flash black car you drive, you're still your family is still going to be touched by this.
MF: Yeah. I mean, for me, even growing up in suburban Melbourne, I often think about this the first time I met an Aboriginal man was in prison. Like that was the most disturbing thing in thinking back on. That it's such a fucking tragic thing to and the first conversation I had was with a Muslim convert Aboriginal man who was in in prison. It's such a sad thing. And, and if we talk about, yeah, the state of Aborigionals, I mean, all of the Supermax prisons in Melbourne and New South Wales are full of Muslims, like, so it's like this strange, telltale sign that something that deeply is going wrong with our relationship.
GF: I mean, the thing that's wrong is, in my opinion, very simple. It's racism. I mean, Australia has a long way to go in terms of addressing this deep national sort of epidemic. And it's going to take a long time, but I don't see it. I don't, I don't really honestly don't see things improving before I die. And the only reason I say that is because I'm going to die in the next five years.
MF: Can we can we just go back a bit and talk about the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and how that came about? What led to the formation of that?
GF: Well say this black power movement I've been talking, about really began to have impact by the beginning of 1971. We were getting organised, we'd managed to create an Aboriginal legal service in Redfern, which we thought might be an answer to police harassment, or at least provide some sort of legal protection for those who are being arrested. We'd created not only the Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service, the first community control Aboriginal Health Service in Australia. We created the children's breakfast programme, stealing an idea from the Black Panthers. The National Black theatre was up and running. So we were on a roll. And throughout 1971, growing numbers of people were joining us in our big land rights marches that we were having. And then in 1971, the Springbok Tour of Australia happened and that was a crucial moment. This was a group of white South African rugby players told by their Prime Minister that they were ambassadors for a parttime. And the football tour of Australia that followed, drew out large numbers of anti-parttime demonstrations. And we challenge those anti-parttime demonstrators. We said, ‘How come you're so concerned about racism over there, and not at the same time being prepared to address the same issue here in your own backyard?’. And so as a result, large numbers of people from the anti-parttime movement began joining our marches to such an extent that by the end of 1971, the Prime Minister of Australia, Billy McMahon, a tragic, pathetic little man, was panicking in Canberra. You know, the issue of Aboriginal land rights was being, you know, on the front pages nationally, major marches and every city was even attracting international media attention. And so the Prime Minister thought that the obvious solution to this problem was for him to make a policy statement for his government on land rights. He chose to make that statement on the fateful day of Invasion Day 26th of January. I mean, it was a really stupid thing for him to do. He made an announcement on Invasion Day in 1972, ‘My government will never grant Aboriginal land rights’. Aboriginal people reacted instantly and Redfern set up a deputation, guys to Canberra set up a protest on the lawns to photo taking for the newspapers the next day. And we expect, we expected that they would get arrested, and that we'd get in the next and bail amount. But as luck, historical luck would have it, the police arrived and told the boys that there was in fact no law against camping and as the boys accidentally discovered a loophole in Canberra law. And the police said that as long as there was only 11 tents on the lawn, there's nothing they could do and would do. And so for the next six months, we set up an 11 tent compound, which we call the Aboriginal embassy. It was called the Aboriginal embassy because Tony Cory, one of the founders of the embassy, said that the Prime Minister's statement denying us land rights is effectively deeming us aliens in our own land. If we're aliens in our own land, will have an embassy like all the other aliens, only our embassy will be a tent on the lawns of Parliament as to remind every politician that walks out of that gas works across the road that we're here, and we're not moving. And the Aboriginal embassy created such a major crisis with the McMahon government, it ended up bringing them down in December that year. But after six months, the, you know, international publicity from 72 media organisations from around the world, the Prime Minister again got nervous, and said I better do something about those blacks across the road. And so stupidly advised by his Attorney General, he created a special new law making it illegal to camp on the lawns of Parliament. And the police came and knocked down the embassy three times in a row over a three week period. We kept on putting it back up, and they kept on knocking it down. And in the end, on the final occasion, we decided we'd achieved our purpose, we'd gone to Canberra six months earlier, just for the purpose of getting a photo. When in fact, through circumstances, we'd managed to alert the entire world about what was going on in Australia that there was a struggle for justice in Australia, there was a struggle for land in Australia, it had to do with indigenous people. The whole world now knew. And more importantly, six months later, as a direct result of the Aboriginal embassy, the Whitlam Government, not only. Well, he ended officially the Australian Government policy of assimilation for Aboriginal people. The policy of assimilation as Whitlam was told by Paul, the Aboriginal embassy, the policy simulation simulation equals genocide, you know. And so Whitlam, the Aboriginal embassy changed the course of Australian history by bringing to an end, what had been almost three quarters of a century of policy of assimilation. And we had great expectations that things would change in the immediate aftermath of that. Unfortunately, for us, and for Australians, the CIA intervened.
MF: Is that so?
GF: Ask Christopher Boyce. Go and look at Christopher Boyce. Christopher is my source on that, I'll send you the info mate. And within a year of Golf Whitlam dying, his widow, Margaret Whitlam made it very clear that she believed that the CIA was involved in Whitlem’s dismissal. And there is sufficient evidence for me as a historian to make such an assertion on your good little podcast.
DX: What do you make of this? This idea that a foreign government has intervened in Australian politics and no one knows about this?
MF: It’s not as if no one knows about it. I mean, you know, yeah, SBS had an interview with Christopher Boyce, which he detailed, this is after he got out of jail. They caught him in America. The film, The Falcon and the Snowman is about Christopher Boyce. It's, you know, this guy was working for a CIA organisation, and he was encountering the CIA traffic from Australia in the lead up to the Whitlam downfall. And he was subsequently arrested for espionage because he was given this information to the Russian. Well, he did 36 years in prison. And when he came out, SBS did an interview with him. If anyone wants to look at the interview, send me an email and I'll send you the link. But in that interview, Christopher Boyce for the first time, since 1975, spoken a bit more detail about what had happened and what was going on.
MF: Does any of that sort of stuff, make you nervous? You know, and suddenly, you're involved in a game that's loaded with all sorts of nefarious actors, the CIA, you know, people that have been silenced?
GF: Well, luckily, I came to realise a lot of the players in the game, only 30 years later. If only I had known who were up against the times in the old days, maybe, maybe we would have been a bit more careful about what we said. But despite, you know, despite all the intense surveillance that ATO had us under, I mean, you know, we came out of it looking pretty clean in terms of all of the political stuff we've been accused of. You know, the big complicating factor of our era that was that we were, were involved in stuff still the height of the Cold War, which dirty sort of politics all over the world at the time, you know, this whole anti-communist further. You know, whereas from our point of view, there were elements within the Communist Party, who were very supportive of what we were doing. And I'm talking there, particularly of the New South Wales, builders Labourers Federation, the only person who went to jail from the Aboriginal embassy in confrontations with police, was a white member of the Builders Labourers Federation in New South Wales. The Communist Party in the 1930s, had a manifesto on Aboriginal rights. That was the strongest of any political party that any political party has ever had in the history of Australia, including the Black Power Movement. The Communist Party in the 1930s, was advocating full nationhood status for Aboriginal peoples that they be given a significant portion of Australia to administer themselves in accordance with their own laws and customs, that they be enabled to have a navy, have an army, and a police force, and that they'd be able to establish diplomatic relations with neighbouring countries such as Australia. We mean, and many of the older activists in our who were, you know, some of our mentors and advisors, some of the old Aboriginal political activists amongst us, had been members of the Communist Party at that time and during that period when the Communist Party was strong in Australia. And in fact, if you want to again, look at the history, the third very first major national public campaign against police brutality to Aboriginal people, was organised by the Darwin branch of the Communist Party in 1934. Yeah, so we weren't fooled by all of this nonsensical American propaganda about ‘commies burn, you know, under every bed’, you know, many most Australians were but we weren't fooled by that sort of nonsense.
MF: Jacqui, you took on another type of empire; the miners. Can we talk a bit about the first time you heard about Jabba Loca? And yeah, how was that? Yeah, just the first time you heard about uranium mining that was about to take place in Jabba Loca.
JK: Well, I can remember hearing about uranium mining at a mine called Ranger Uranium Mine when I was quite young in the 80s. And it was one of the things that my mother discussed, and the fact that Aboriginal people were receiving a royalty income. And I couldn't help but feel as if people then had to live with a lifelong legacy of pollution. During the 1970s, there had been significant international debate about the nuclear fuel cycle. And as a primary school student, we were participating in drills of what we should do as primary school children, if in the event of a nuclear attack. So this was something that was well known and spoken about in normal public discussion. And to know that my family was not just participating in that, but would be subject to the pollution from uranium mining, made me feel like they were being treated like second class citizens; that there was no ultimate benefit. Little did I know that there was not just your own range of uranium mine, there were three other mines also that were permitted to begin extracting uranium ore in the same area. When I moved back to Darwin in my early 20s, I had, you know, the opportunity to spend a lot of time with my family and to find out more about myself, I suppose, through that reunion, but the inability of them to control the activity on their land, that they had received title for that the rights to land were recognised under the Aboriginal land rights act. Yet, their power in decision making terms was minimal. And I felt that perhaps I was in a position where I could provide them with some sort of assistance. There are a combination of epic issues that occurred to enable uranium mining to take place. In the area known now as Kakadu National Park, it was once called the uranium province. Aboriginal people were fringe dwellers along the roadside, really, in the face of the development of these mines. Aboriginal people challenged the agreements that were made on their behalf without any success. And I went on to find out about the deficiencies in the legal frameworks that continues to subjugate Aboriginal people. So that the ability to say that you have rights over your land is really cosmetic. Especially when it flies in the face of a greater political will. And in the case of Canberra, at the time, it was the Malcolm Fraser government, who ensured that the opposition of my family the mirar people, was not going to be taken into consideration and that an agreement would be signed on their behalf, in spite of them not approving; in spite of them holding the legal power to veto the mine going head. So, as I mean, Australia was committed to be a player in the international politics. And by having the uranium ticket, it gave them a capacity or certain political capacity on worldwide terms, and if the interests of the mirar people were to be sacrificed to achieve that, then they saw that as immaterial to the interests of the rest of Australia.
And we're seeing 40 years later the legacy of that, for people locally who only last week, when the operations of the mine ended. They now are in the invidious situation, where for many thousands of years, the toxic waste as a result of mining could directly impact places where they hunt food, places where they draw water. And already, we're seeing an increase in the cancer rates amongst Aboriginal people in the area. Of course, you know, suddenly, there are no scientists who can uncover why this is the case, it all seems to be somehow incidental. But Aboriginal people not only experience the powerlessness and in the irony of gaining rights to their land, but now they wrestle with their own mortality as a result. And when in 1996, when the Howard government came to power, they encouraged energy resources of Australia to put forward a proposal for the dormant at the time, the dormant ore body Jabba Loca.
MF: So how soon after that, did you get involved?
JK: It was in the same year, and it wasn't clear then. Because an agreement had been secured again, on behalf of the mirar people without their approval, it wasn't clear that there would be a legal basis for preventing the mine from going ahead. But that wasn't going to in any way, shape, the strategy that we would pursue to prevent mining at Jabba Loca. And using their experience of the failings in economic development, because lots of people try to paint a picture of great economic benefit as a result of mining. In the case of Jabbaru, is a case in point where people were still living in impoverished circumstances, they didn't enjoy the citizenship entitlements that other Australians did. There was no government housing. They could not live in the township of Jabbaru unless they were employed. That township was established for the miners at Ranger Uranium Mine. Aboriginal people literally lived in fringe camps, under corrugated iron and aqmesh with open fires. A luxury was having one tap per house, an outdoor tap. There was no refrigeration, there were no washing machines. It was the life of people who were cast aside by society very obviously. Yet, but the Northern Territory government, the Commonwealth Government, and the mining company, all three spoke of the wonderful benefits that could arise as a result of the royalty income from a new mine, being Jabba Loca. And I wasn't going to be part of any, well, I wasn't going to allow that type of campaign of assimilation once again, to overwhelm my family in Kakadu National Park. And even though I was a single mother, living in Darwin at the time, I packed up my kids, we moved to Jabbaru, and I committed to doing everything absolutely possible to end the mining companies campaign to begin Jabba Loca. And in fact, the mining company continued to try to call out bluff. Throughout six, a six year campaign that I worked on, to the point where they created the entrance to the mine, they had constructed the rehabilitation ponds, they had removed what they call the overburden. Not one piece of uranium was ever extracted from the Jabba Loca body, in spite of them bluffing, as if they had, all the permissions were to secure their production future. And in 2006, they were forced to rehabilitate the mine side.
MF; There was a long battle and it got quiet, there was a lot of direct action that kind of I've heard got a bit dangerous at times,
JK: it was a lot of direct action. We established a blockade Camp 1997. And I think it might have been 1998. We established a blockade camp, and invited Australians who were just as outraged by a new uranium mine, located in the middle of Kakadu National Park, people who were just as outraged as us to join us in protesting any development at the mine site. And Australians, ordinary Australians, teachers, public servants, tradies, would take time off work, travel up in the bus service that was created and spend two weeks or more at the blockade camp to show their support in protesting on site in Kakadu National Park.
GF: That's interesting. In terms of that's a replication of the sort of support that was expressed for, where people from south of Gulbin, build bricks or whatever, for a little period, and then come back south again. So it's interesting that the same thing happened with Jabba Loca.
JK: Well, I wasn't aware of that. So there you go.
GF: Well I’m the historian and you're not.
JK: Yeah, it was an incredible sight to witness, ordinary Australians lending their support to the mirar in their opposition. And, as I said, no legal leg to stand on no capacity to prevent the mine going ahead. There are provisions in the Aboriginal land rights act, that allow the northern land council to consider and participate in renewal of agreements and permissions around uranium mining. And we're all too aware of the times in the past where that had occurred. So yes, we were very aware of the political nature and the heavy influences that were being brought to bare. But in the end, Rio Tinto, in trying to be a responsible corporate organisation, made an agreement with traditional owners to honour the Aboriginal land rights act. Not to establish any other thresholds, any additional position that Aboriginal people could enjoy their rights; simply to honour the Aboriginal land rights act. And it was only that commitment that prevented the mine going ahead. Still an asset of the mining company. It's, I mean, if the cost the price of uranium went up, it'd be very interesting to see if they would move forward, trying to exploit that ore body. It's in an extraordinarily sensitive wetland area, which has worldwide recognition for its biodiversity and its natural values, as well as its cultural values. The area known as Maggie Bear Bear is the site where definitively, Aboriginal people have been proved to occupy Australia for 60,000 years. Well, that's within the fence of the site. So these are issues of great importance to humanity, in our view,
GF: More so today than ever.
JK: More so today, especially with the example of the Jukan Gorge, and the disregard the blatant disregard that mining companies have in the face of increased profits, for shareholders all that's the excuse that they use. But yeah, there were lots of actions, which resulted in broken bodies at the Jabba Loca blockade. They brought in the tactical response group, to arrest myself, Evon, other women and children. And so there was a lot of intimidatory tactics that were used by the mining company and by the Northern Territory government to protect the mining company's interests.
GF: And by the comprador class.
JK: Of course.
MF: Yeah, I think I think it's worth highlighting the deep connection to land and how that's kind of sidelined for capital gain by a lot of corporations that have huge sway over both sides of our political spectrum.
GF: But it's happening globally. And I look at, in, in the Amazon, in Alaska, in you know, and more often than not, it's indigenous peoples groups that are on the front line in confronting these huge mining bodies. And, more often than not, the indigenous people who are who are caught up there in the front line get very minimal or no support, you know, where indigenous activists have been murdered by the dozen in South America.
JK: And women in the majority.
MF: Do you recall when you experienced the first real kind of sacrifice that came from either of your movements that deeply affected the struggle? I always feel like a lot of movements get spurred forward or energised by sacrifice in a very tragic kind of way.
GF: Well, the thing that I can very clearly remember that the other factor in politicising me and getting me involved in the campaign we ran against the police, which was the origins of the Black Power Movement. When I first moved to Sydney, I said I was a young, naive kid from the bush, had no real experience of city life. And one of the, or the person, a friend I made young Aboriginal guy call Waine from a place called Camestry Island in New South Wales, he was essentially the one who taught me how to survive on the streets, or the the main streets of the big city. And very early in my friendship with him, I noticed that he was being picked up by the police every, literally, every Friday or Saturday night and taken to the police station, and given a good bashing regardless of whether he did anything or not. I mean, he was known to the coppers because he had this pawn shop for knicking cars, you know, just to ride and go for a joy ride and dumping them; didn't burn him or anything. But because of this, you know, this little habit he had the police felt that they were able to pick him up on side and bash him. And this got under my skin a bit, you know, come on more than a bit. Because I've seen him on numerous occasions, you know, come back to the hostel where we're staying with his face or bruised and battered. And not long before we started the little discussion group in Redfern that led to the Black Power Movement or Aboriginal legal service not long before the beginning of that, I found out one day that this guy had been murdered by police in Newtown. No police person was ever bought to account for it. I can clearly remember to this day that it had a very profound effect upon me. You know, this was one of my best friend. And he was he meant a lot to me, because he really literally had taught me how to survive, you know, and on the main streets of the Big Smoke, you know, as a young kid from the bush. I think that that as much as anything else also pushed me in when Paul Coe approached me and Redfern one day and said, ‘Listen, we're setting up a little discussion group of a few of us to see if we can talk about ways in which we might might be able to counter what these coppers are doing’. And when Paulco put that to me, I said, ‘No worries I’m there’. Partly because of the passion that I'd got, but also because of what I'd witnessed with Waine and the fact that that the cops was actually murdered him and gotten away with it.
MF: And how soon after, after that first meeting, did you decide to create the Aboriginal legal service? How did that come together?
GF: It took a bit of a while. I mean, what you had in the very beginning was about three or four people. I think it was Gary, my cousin, Paulco, myself, woman called Colin Thompson, Lynn Craggy from Maury. And we just started talking about things and as I said, at the time, I'd read Malcolm X, and we were, I'd gotten my hands, I think an American soldier had given us a copy of Seize The Time, Bobby Seal’s book on the Black Panthers. And reading through those and various other things. We were very, you know, when we read about what the Panthers are done with their pig patrol in Oakland. First of all, with waste, we related immediately to the problem of police harassment in the black community, what they were describing in Oakland, California for African Americans was, we were seeing exactly the same thing on the streets of Redfern against Aboriginal people. So we thought, let's have a look at how they went about countering that problem. And let's learn from them. And we adopted and adapted the idea of the pig patrol. In Oakland, what they used to do is that created a pig patrol where Panthers who were legally able to be armed under certain circumstances in California. They would arm themselves, if they saw a police car driving to their community, they jump in their car with their guns and they'd follow the police car. And if the police car stopped, and the cops got out, and became threatening the Panthers would get out their guns and say, ‘We're here to defend the community. If you kill any of our brothers and sisters, we'll kill you’. I mean, that was the 1960s version of the Black Lives Matter Movement. And we thought this was a good idea in Redfern you know. And at one time when Paulco is a law student, he actually researched the laws in New South Wales to see if we could carry guns in New South Wales, but mercifully, we couldn't. But we thought, we took the basic idea of a pig patrol, in other words, monitoring; keeping tabs and recording what the police were doing in our community. Unfortunately, those days we didn't have mobile phones or little mini recorders that you record. We had to record everything on with a pen and paper. And so we started following the police around in Redfern, taking notes on everything they did. They used to raid regularly the hotel, legendary Big E in Redfern, which was the Aboriginal pub of Redfern. And at the time, they'd write that every Friday and Saturday night, and we'd be waiting for him with our pen and papers, recording the numbers in the early days, they still had the numbers on, we take them the numbers, we'd recorded their arrest, and we'd record try and find out where they were taking them. We'd take the numbers of the vans that used to queue up at the front of the hotel. And we gathered evidence. And in the long term, we're able to present that evidence to the Dean of the law faculty at the University of New South Wales, who, reluctantly in the beginning, ultimately agreed to assist us. And then when we were once we enlisted the assistance of someone or consequence, the next thing was, ‘Well, what do we do?’ And Paulco again, pointed out that he'd read that in America, they'd set up these things that were shop for free legal aid centres. And he said, Professor Wooden, ‘Why can't we do the same thing here?’ And the Dean of the Law Faculty proceeded to tell Paulco all 726 reasons why you couldn't do that in Australia. And less than six weeks later, we opened the first free shop front Legal Aid Centre for anyone in Australia, the Redfern, Aboriginal legal service.
MF: It's powerful stuff, really powerful stuff. Just one final question before we call it a day. What do you think young people in Australia can do to get involved in the struggle today? What's your one kind of parting bit of advice that you'd like to see them take upon themselves to chip in?
GF: A great old Aboriginal activist who taught both Jacqui and I was Dixon, and one of his great many favourite sayings was, ‘we learn from each other’. And so another one of his sayings, which he stole from that great Aboriginal philosopher, Matzah Dong was, ‘Educate yourself, then educate the people’. So essentially, the first and foremost things that people can do to help us is to help themselves. Which is to, to educate themselves more in, I'm talking to a broader the broader Australian community and Anglo Australians, my brothers and sisters in Anglo Australia, I'd put it to you that there is a lot you need to learn about your own society, you know, don't come to us thinking that you can help us. The problem, the primary problem that confronts Aboriginal people in Australia today is racism. And racism is essentially born of fear and ignorance. So the first thing you need to do is educate yourself as to why so many of your relatives, say such extraordinarily racist things about Aboriginal people. I say to my students, one of the first things you need to do if you want to find out, the real nature of the problem in Australia, is go out there and find yourself a racist, you don't have to look too far. There's not a short supply. In fact, the most handy race you're likely to find is within your own family. And once you find that racist member of your family, then you attempt to talk reasonably and rationally to them. And once you do that, then you'll begin to realise just how difficult a problem that all of us are confronted with, you know. Ignorance is an enormous thing to overcome. And even within yourself, you need to understand more about the nature of your own white privilege. Tthe beginnings of change, begin within yourself, look in the mirror and examine yourself, your family, your family's history, the history of the community around; know whose land you live upon, you know, so the process begins there, it begins within yourself. And then, as you begin to educate yourself as to what the real nature of the problem and Australia itself is, then the answers about what to do next will appear in front of you. That's the best answer I can give on that.
JK: Well being a student of Professor Foley for many years, it is absolutely important for people to become informed. But not to simply read the information that's on the surface, to look at the historical influences in Australia and understand how that has shaped them as a person. Because we are all linked together in trying to bring about something better in Australia. And unless you're committed to making things better for everybody, you cannot support Aboriginal people and our commitment to overturn discrimination and racism.
GF: And in closing, I have closed,
MF: That's awesome. Thank you so much for being with us today.