LONG GRASS PROTEST DARWIN 8 MAY 2002
People have been living and loving in the long grass for a long time now. They've also been suffering and struggling to survive. This morning they gathered in the park, shaded by big native figs, to talk, to protest, to make their voices heard. One woman got up to speak, her blue dress flapping against her long bird thin body. She strode up to the microphone, holding a hand full of dust up. "We live in the dust!" she said with passion as she scattered it over her head and around "We always have!"
The so-called long grassers are homeless mainly aboriginal people living in and around Darwin, in the far North of Australia. Politicians and councilors who tell the long grassers to go home are ignoring the fact that indigenous people are at home in this country and living out under the stars their ancient way of life.
Darwin is standing on Larakia country. This city hasn't been here so very long, maybe only a hundred years. In 1971 the cyclone flattened the town, even now it has an impermanent feel to it. Darwin is an elaborate white man's mining and military camp. Walking around Darwin city centre at night I am struck by a strange mental sensation. I can clear imagine the aliens arriving, bringing with them a whole different concept of reality, which they impose upon earth in a matter of a few years. We earthlings would have no power to prevent the changes, the aliens would put us in a position where we would have to choose weather to die with our dwindling sense of reality or to change our selves to fit an alien world, either way we would effectively be forced cease to exist.
The only way out of this trap is to live in a kind of twilight between the two realities, and maybe this is what the long grass mob does. Some of the long grass populations are Larakia people whose country this is. Many others them come from remote communities, like Maningreeta in Arnham land, where live must be very different to how it is here in Darwin. Some come from further south. People come to the city for a variety of reasons, medical treatment being one. Many are waiting for housing. When people do finally get housed it isn't always a success. For example, Aboriginal people with their strong extended families will often have many relations staying with them. Over flowing homes goes against council rules and rather than turn away their family they end up back in the long grass where at least they can be together.
They live together making camps near the beaches and the parks, sometimes staying at picnic areas because they have running water and toilets. These people face constant battles just to exist. The council has expressed a policy of harassment towards them. The police and rangers constantly apprehend and fine them. Sleeping rough is an offence, making a cooking fire is an offence; both attract a 50 dollar fine. When long grassers are unable to pay their fines, as is often the case, they are imprisoned. The council employees some young men as night patrol to harass and move on long grassers, often using physical force. One woman described Night patrol as the lost generation, "they got no families" she said. At the protest today people's anger was clear to see. Men and women were standing up and speaking out strongly against the bullying "why don't they leave us alone?"
Why don't the indeed? As with any city, homeless people are regarded by councilors as an embarrassment, proving that councilors and government are not providing adequately for the community. Homeless people are treated as disorder, mess to be swept away. In Sydney the streets were cleared of homeless people before the Olympics, while in many South American cities street children are shot. Persecution of long grassers is a kind of inner city ethnic cleansing. Long grassers drinking and partying habits are used as justification for this persecution. Many people spoke about grog today. Some where calling it poison, one women pointed out that it was the whites who introduced it to the indigenous population, "it's their fault, not ours!" Several others were shouting out to the police, complaining of how their grog gets confiscated and tipped away. " If we were fighting that would be one thing but we are just drinking, you out to leave us alone!" Although alcohol is undoubtedly poisoning people the unfairness is clear. People with houses can sit down together for a drink, why can't long grassers?
Ultimately the reason that the council wishes to persecute the long grass people is the same genocide and assimilation game the white system has been playing all along. Once again they are presenting those two dead end choices, play by our rules, assimilate into a good little underclass, or cease to exist. One man spoke today of respect. He pointed out that as well as white people having to learn to respect white culture, black should also respect white culture. Then he added that black people had several cultures while white people only have one. It's true that the dominant white culture would like to appear as the only culture, but actually there are many white sub-cultures. One such culture, fighting to exist in ways that are analogous to the long grasses struggle at the moment is the traveller culture, both traditional gypsies and new travellers. Travellers in Britain, like the long grassers, face exclusion, eviction and police harassment. Like the long grass mob, people take to the road in Britain for positive and negative reasons. Homelessness is a negative state to be in but forming a camp together is an empowering action. People who have found their feet in this way don't always want housing when and if it becomes available to them. Like some of the long grass mob, many travellers, prefer their way of life to settling down in a council flat.
This is how different ways of living are perceived as a threat to the dominant culture. In Britain traveller are seen as a threat because they have found a viable way of living that is alternative to the passive dependency encouraged by the state. Long grassers in Darwin, despite their apparent powerlessness and the hard struggle that they live, are making a strong statement against the white washed facade of the city. Gathering in beach side parks in the evenings they are living on the land, like the old people did long before the white population with their "alien" reality arrived. Many long grass people who spoke today strongly emphasized their indigenous culture and law, they spoke of ceremonies, bush tucker and magic. The protested ended inside the council buildings with traditional singing while some of the protesting women danced traditional style. Cyclones, civilizations and councilors may come and go, but people will still be gathering together, sitting down on this ground and sleeping under these stars.
Same city (Darwin) different names ( I changed 'em)
Sitting down with some of the women this evening. Geraldine who spent ages detuning my guitar, and took great glee in trying to fool us with match tricks.."dees pussy cats, dees nine pussy cats, all jumped outa a boat, dey woz in a canoe or sometin, dey all jumped out, des copycats, copyin one an other...go on make dat one outa matches..dats pretty tricky one!" her neck was swollen from when her husband had strangled her last night, "kicked im in da balls, made him let go, next time i use a fuckin razer." Her cousin, younger, dreamily drunk, kept teasing her, trying to hug her, humbug her, I don't recall the cousin's name but her for-arms were covered entirely in deep scars. One was from an accident defending herself from some one when she was drunk, she said she lost a lot of blood, "my blood cum out like water" she said. The other scars, and there were so many, she had done to her self when drunk, "cutting and then cutting some more." She showed me the shorts she was wearing under her little skirt, with a cheeky grin, "dis way anyone come rip dis one i still got it." "yeah don't let em see your black hairy thing!" her other cousin, Collette was laughing.
Collette is from down south, these women are from all over, while Geraldine's skin is very dark, Collette's is a lighter shade. She says "they call us coloured" she says "no disrespect but when a white baby is born their skin is pink, when they go in the sun they go pink or brown, when they dieing they go blue, when they dead they blue and black and purple..that's coloured! Us mob we black when we born and we stay black.....Stay black!" she sings this out as a greeting to a smartly dressed black couple walking by. Collette's brother Wayne comes up. He is laughing at my white-white skin "apparently you not adapted to yor environment" he says. Then Collette tells him that her son died two weeks ago of leukemia and they go in to an intense conversation. Geraldine's sister comes up with a cardboard cask of moselle which gets decanted into little cola bottles. The girl with the scared arms insists i drink some, I try to refuse, but she won't have it "go one PLEASE justa nip!" Collette empties out her bag, Geraldine sees the syringe in there and protests to her "why you do that? it hurt me when you do that." "Pain relief" Collette replies "I got a lot of pain since I was in the car accident. I'm all smashed up down her." she gestures to her pelvice. "any way I'm going to die, i got cancer." (Lots of aboriginal people from down south have cancer because of the nuclear test and the uranium mines. I wonder if this is her's and her sons story too) Sounds little a miserable conversation but over all it wasn't. These women are living through the most horrific stuff yet they are crying one minuet then laughing the next, raising their voices angrily to each other then being affectionate, hanging out laughing drinking and smoking bumpers, fag butts, like street people the world over.