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Relationship to the Land by Robbie Thorpe



Isobelle Coe

Aunty Liz Hoffman.

Aunty Pauline Gordon.

Poem as read by Donna Ruska

Poem as read by Aunty Liz Hoffman

Victorian Aboriginal Language Map


Relationship to the Land

by Robbie Thorpe

(taken from Native Forest Network Australian Forest Conference Papers - October 1994).

What I'd like to talk about is the relationship to the land Aboriginal people have, and how the destruction of our land also represents the destruction of Aboriginal people. That can be seen right across the face of this planet. You even have indigenous people destroying their own lands now, to enable themselves to survive. It's an absolute tragedy that this is happening. Where the land is destroyed, so are the Aboriginal-indigenous people . . . I also see the law as it is today as the single most destructive thing in the Australian environment.

What I mean is that the law that we live under in this country is an alien law which was imposed on this country. It was imposed through an invasion. A lot of people say it was settled; it's not true. A fleet of ships came out here captained by an English naval officer, Captain James Cook. Cook's instructions from his king were to get consent from the Aboriginal people. That failed to happen. We all know the story of Terra Nullius. For the people that don't know what Terra Nullius means, it's a latin term meaning empty land.

That's how Australia was occupied, the fact that it was a Terra Nullius and that was overturned in 1992 through the Mabo decision (a High Court decision that determined that traditional land rights were not extinguished by the illegal occupation of this country - ed's note). Under the guise of Terra Nullius the British set about committing genocide of the indigenous peoples . . . and also the unbelievable destruction of our lands. If people can imagine what it was like in this country 200 years ago, you don't know what you've missed out on. You don't know anything about what life is all about.

The condition this country is in now, probably has one tenth of its beauty left, if I can put it like that. It was an absolutely beautiful country and probably the most important thing, because of the way Aboriginal people looked after the land and because of the way they respected the law of the land, was that we had something to offer our children and that was a future. That was the driving force behind our conservation.

We were always going to be here in this country. We were a part of the creation. A part of this country just like any other of the animals that are here, the flora and fauna. Aboriginal people are a crucial element in that ecology. The crucial element.

My fears are when that crucial element is finally destroyed, which it looks like it's going to be, particulary in the areas of southern Australia where there's been no recognition under white mans law, the land will suffer as a result. You've got to remember that the indigenous people have a spiritual relationship to the land. It's vitally important.

The white man must have been spiritual at some stage of his history, but over the generations of being dehumanised and dispossessed from their own lands they've lost the connection to the land. This is the key for survival of the planet. Australia can't stand another 200 years of ignorance. It won't last that long.

Australia was the last continent to be colonised. The technologies that they brought to this country have destroyed the country in an unbelievably short space of time and it was a very delicate country to begin with . . . I think that some of the most foolish and ignorant people on earth live in Australia and that's reflected by what they've done to the environment. If people only understood how much Aboriginal loved this land and how much a part of it we are. We are the crucial part and if we die so will the land.

It's our creation. We know the songs for our country. White fellas don't know them songs. They don't know how to sing the spirit of the land. Who's going to do that? What I'm saying is that to live in this country, you're going to need the Aboriginal people to survive too . . .

So unless the law of the land is recognised and Aboriginal people survive, forget about the forest, forget about the trees, forget about all the animals, forget about anything that's native in this country because it won't survive. We are the totem link to those animals. We've got a spiritual link to them. We die, they die. They die, we die and you can see that pattern all around the world. Where there's land being destroyed, so are indigenous people.

If you don't live under the law of the land, you're going to destroy that land. Indigenous people belong to those areas. They are like the indigenous flora and fauna. It's just the human element and that's what people don't understand. They don't know where the human element fits into the environment. They know all about the koala bears and the bluegum trees, but they don't know where they fit into the scheme of things. But there's a simple blueprint about where you do fit in. That's in the Aboriginal mode. That's the law of the land. Our people had it worked out to a tee. We had a future there for our children. That's what civilisation means to me. It's very important to understand where you fit into the environment.

Do you know anything about the law of the land? Do you know the people's land that you're living on? I'm sure a lot of people wouldn't know. I'm sure alot of people could tell me the names of 5 or 6 Indian tribes in America, but they couldn't tell me 5 here.

They couldn't tell me the names of 5 Aboriginal leaders, but they could tell me 5 Indian leaders. It's amazing, because the Aboriginal people are the most studied or researched people on earth and yet the most ignorant people about Aboriginal people on this planet are the Australian people. How do you figure that out? . . .

Read court transcripts about Robbies struggle with the illegal occupying government.


During the second day of the Global Survival and Indigenous Rights Conference held in Melbourne in November 1998, several workshops took place. One of them being on sovereignty and law. This workshop was operating under the understanding that in Australia there are currently two laws. The white man's law and the black man's law.

The white man's law was broken by committing genocide on Aboriginal people of Australia both physically and culturally. A genocide that still goes on today. The fact that there was no treaty signed between the invader and the invaded constitutes the fact that Australia is still under an unstated war. Until a treaty is signed in this land we are still under a state of war, still committing genocide.

Once a treaty is signed between the Aboriginal people of Australia and the people that have been living in Australia under a tainted white man's law, we will be at peace. The signing of treaty means the acceptance of the natural law. A law that is universal and adheres to all humanity.

The Aboriginal law is the family. It is handed down from one generation to the other. The men's and women's business is the discipline of the law. We need to move towards that as it is a system that governs all countries and needs to be met. "It is like the Ying and Yang if you like" said Denis Walker - Queensland.

The fact of the matter is that if people do not have a treaty, they should be asked to leave. It should also be understood that the white people of Australia should not fear black people's right to come back and take over land, for once that fear is lost, nobody loses. Racism is ignorance borne out of fear.

It is difficult for the white people to see the essence and the truth as they are deeply entrenched in the government and media and the materialistic society that perpetuates the genocide within that society.

We need to get away from the monetary system that cannot possibly last. A bartering system needs to be set up in order to get spiritually connected. Unless you sing up the Elders in Council (bloodlines back to territory) things could go terribly wrong. This is the mechanism that creates frameworks in which we move. The law is being done to everyone all the time front the subatomic to the metaphysical. The song and the dance.

A motion was moved and seconded that, "We move to self government by natural law and that the treaty process be used by the Friends of the Earth to facilitate at local, regional, national and international levels with international protection ". Moved bv Denis Walker. Seconded Isabelle Coe - Aboriginal Tent Embassy."


Isobelle Coe

My name is Isabelle Coe. I'm from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, I'm from the Wiradjeri Tribe in New South Wales, it's one of the biggest tribes up there.

This is nothing new. This is something that we have been fighting for, for as long as I've been at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy (est. 1972 in the park opposite old parliament house). And I think it's time I really believe that it's time that people sit down and talk about these things. This is a move from the people and what Denis is saying, this healing case won't ever begin until we make peace. And we see it as a forum, this is our way of making peace. We believe that until this process happens there will be genocide. And if we don't act now, the longer we put this off , the harder it is going to be. The more lives that we lose each day. The more of our old people that we lose each day.

Now Aboriginal people all over this country. We know that we own this country from one end of this country to the other end. We have never signed any treaties, we have never relinquished sovereignty to our country, in any shape or form. Our people have died, they have laid down their lives. There has been genocide committed in Australia against Aboriginal people I happen to live in Sydney where the genocide began, where they landed. And in the year 2000 they're going to have the Olympic Gaines because of Chi na's human rights record! And we say what about Australia's human rights record!?

Aunty Liz Hoffman.

Survival is why we're here. Otherwise, why did we travel here all this way? Just to support the government of this country, and what they're doing to our land, and what they're doing to our people? We want to make sure that when we go home from this that something will be done. And I support this because we've waited a long long time to get something such as this up and working. Thankyou.

Aunty Pauline Gordon.

I'm Pauline Gordon. I'm a Bunjulung woman, I come from the north east coast of Australia in New South Wales and I am a rainforest person. Now why I'm here... and I'm real honoured because this is my fathers country here (although I take my mother's moiety from up in Bundjulung country/nation). And I know his spirit's here, and our grandfather, and our ancestors of this country and he's a Wurundjeri and Cummeragunja man. And I'm proud and honoured to be here.

Why am I down here? I want to see things change and its through what Dellis was saying and Isabelle Coe from the Aboriginal Embassy. And I'm one of them too, and I'm gonna be proud, because I'm gonna hit the government for bloody genocide too, for what they've done through sophisticated forms of legislation to wipe us Aboriginal people out. And push us into that white melting pot they've got waiting around the corner. Well they're damn well not going to push any Aboriginal grandchildren, even if they're fair skinned and blue eyed. They've got a right to decide who they are and they've got a right to retain their Aboriginality and be descendents of their ancestors, the original people of this country.

Poem as read by Donna Ruska,

The time has come for the dreamtime folk

to mass and defend their timeless land

against the violent miner

who steals her black blood

the mineral sand

i sat and listened for my life

to learn what i could hear

all i heard was this cry of pain

a cry of which i fear

when i followed to find which way

and from where this cry had come

it led to me to my mother land

the country i really love

i searched to find what was that pain

i had to search within

in that time i realised

that the destruction was of me

i sat and thought of what to do

to heal that pain within

i called upon the great lord

and asked his foregiveness for their sins

the miner thinks he has control

he thinks the land is a toy

the miner thinks

he has the right to kill and to destroy

now is the time he realised

he is nothing but a child

he needs to know that this land is not his

and the destruction makes us wild


i pay my respects to Oodgeroo

who reminds me of this pain

i call upon the dreamtime folk

to mass and defend their spirit land

to make the violent miner feel

our violent love of land

for the time has come

and the time has come

and it may never come again


With respect to Oodgeroo and our great mother the land by Dale Ruska. Thankyou.

Aunty Liz Hoffman

This is a poem written by Denis's mother. That Tent Embassy was set up in '72. When the women's council had a meeting up in Canberra and we went down and sat on the lawn with them and it was an amazing situation at that time in '72 to try and get something done. Denis was one of those people there. So this was a poem written by his mother, for Denis and it reads,

"My son

your troubled eyes search mine

Puzzled and hurt by color line

Your black skin soft as velvet shine

What can I tell you son of mine

I can tell of heartbreak hatred blind

I can tell of crimes that shamed mankind

Of brutal wrongs and deeds maligned

Of rape and murder son of mine

But I'll tell instead of brave and fine

When lives of black and while entwine

And men in brotherhood combine

This will I tell you son of mine".

Victorian Aboriginal Language Map