Invasion Day

Black Resistance Is in Resurgence in Australia

"I stand as a young black woman, I know my purpose... resistance, it has been my existence."

by Murrawah Johnson
26 January 2017, 5:52am

When I think about my place in the world, for as long as I can remember, there were always people that didn't want me, or my black family "in town." I was born on my Mother's country and raised on my Father's. And for this, I've been fortunate. For my whole life though, I still knew that in those places—my places—my existence was, if not inconvenient at least, deeply troubling to the non-Aboriginal people around me. As a young black girl growing up in small rural Queensland towns on my father's country, innocent as I was, I knew then that we weren't liked.

I see now that my siblings and I, Aboriginal children living on our land and growing up with our culture, weren't just local kids. To the murderous, violent, racist pastoralists (shout out to Clermont, Nebo, Mackay, and surrounding areas), we were a reminder that our people still existed. That we weren't being forced to go anywhere again.

Reflecting on my upbringing, I see now that through all the heartache in the face of blatant colonial violence and racism, my Aboriginal parents made the decision that their children were going to grow up with genuine connection to country, knowing who we are and where we come from. This is the greatest decision and act of resistance that they could have made—packing up, moving home to country, and unfortunately living in a violent and cruel place where our neighbours were the grandchildren of the people who murdered my great-grandparents.

But we went back because it was our duty to look after the country, to know the country. It made me stronger too, if not mildly satisfied to see that we reminded these people that they were on our land—that they had not won.

That is resistance. It has been my existence.

Today, First Nations-led rallies against so-called "Australia Day" are happening all around the country. They are proof that our resistance to the violence we face is resolute. For 229 years, since first contact and the beginning of the invasion, theft, and exploitation of Aboriginal lands, January 26 reminds First Nations Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of a legacy built through defiance.

When Cook arrived, and Arthur Phillip followed, and "the Crown" asserted its rule, "terra nullius" was proclaimed as "law." Not because the British powers actually believed there was nothing here. No, it was the very reason that the voyage was made—the desire for more land, and natural resources to appropriate. Our land was money, wealth, and prosperity for an imperial power. Of course, the price was genocide.

The doctrine of "terra nullius" was as far distorted from the truth as one can get. But the "decision" of "terra nullius" was already made. Decided before the first fleet sailed into so-called Botany Bay. This decision was preformed: carried in the beliefs and powers, the weaponry and the minds, of those who legitimised the subsequent dehumanisation of Aboriginal First Nations people. It was there from the start in the denial of our existence, the lie of an empty land, and the criminal disregard of the colonisers own laws. The dehumanisation weaponised to justify the taking of land through genocide and rape.

But 229 years on and First Nations peoples still exist. Resistance!

The author, Murrawah Johnson. Image supplied

Coming into 2017, our Indigenous lives continue to be highly politicised. We know racist conservatives and nationalists will be revered in society, televised, and published nation-wide—it's just the continuation of the very foundational institutional and cultural racism that opened the "Australia" project. All of this that was predicated on the proclamation of "terra nullius"—the root of the dehumanisation of First Nations peoples.  

We also know that, right now, Aboriginal land rights struggles have the potential to shape the future of mining and other exploitative land uses, on which Australia has built much of its ill-gotten wealth. We know a rising generation of young people will carry on the struggle of our old people for land rights, justice, and human dignity with renewed vigour. We have been schooled in the resistance.

Over the past 229 years, what it means to be  Black Australia has been shaped by brave decisions to not comply with the invading colonial-settler forces (of evil)—it is a legacy of resistance. Since the empire landed, through resistance to the violent colonial systems of land theft, murder, bonded labour, "protection" and "integration" we have been able to break through, and make progress towards rebuilding if not maintaining our freedom and rule of law.

It has always been the "troublemakers" who have taken up the fight. Every win our freedom fighters made became the statements of defense of country, or markers of advancement back to our freedom, to reclaiming our people and families, cultures and stories, places and land.

The strikes, the walk-offs, and the resistance to the destruction of our ways of life and our very survival have guided us. They are Palm Island, Gurrindji, Muckaty, Mabo and Wik amongst many other acts asserting our rights, large and small. We record these moments as "our"  Black History. This is an account of the resistance to colonial powers. This is the legacy of Black (so-called) Australia.

As one of the Wangan and Jagalingou people fighting the world's largest new proposed coal mine—the Adani Carmichael mine—now more than at any other time in my young life, I see that First Nations resistance and recognition of our leadership, is something not just demanding space but shaping the future of my black world. Resistance has always been something I've reflected on, and now as I fight one of the largest contemporary land and human rights battles in the country, I know it's the way forward.

The invading colonial project began with a land struggle. As Aboriginal peoples resisted on frontier battle lines all over so-called Australia, these struggles of our old people have become the legacies have defined generations of our people. While First Nations peoples remain, and until there is restitution and land justice, the land struggle is not over. It is my inherent birthright to what we have fought to defend and what has always been ours that shapes my future. The land struggle does not just continue but is mounting.

Recent challenges to massive mining, extractive and dumping projects have been halted, if not stopped by frontline Aboriginal resistance. All of this action, despite coming from the people least resourced to lead it, is the resurgence in resistance that has historically shaped our black identities. "You don't know where you're going if you don't know where you come from", is something my Father has always said. So, as I think about the leaders that guided our wins, I think I might have an idea of where we're going. Our resistance is our Leadership.

Where white leadership is based on those who resist the least, who conform to the powerful elites; my experience of true Black leadership has been where those who resist the most don't just take power but share it, and they make us stronger as we follow in the resistance, demanding change.

The important thing emerging now is this—the resistance in 2017, as I see it, is so often led by women. Unfortunately the history books don't celebrate our Aboriginal women alongside our warrior brothers and fathers.

Whether that resistance has been the continuation of the first resistance in land and sea struggles, or refusing to work for diminished wages, or the grandmothers against removals of our children into state custody,  these fights have so often been led by our communities, and have directed and shaped us.

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So I stand as a young black woman, I know my purpose. My people's fight is in the spirit and in the continuation of the original resistance and land struggle, all the way through to today as I stand on the front line of one of this country's and the world's catalytic battles for the future.

Today, you've prepared for your local Invasion Day or Survival Day rally or event. The forecast for 'Australia Day' is extreme whitewashing with a high chance of scattered black protests, and perhaps a heavy downpour of black civil disobedience—depending on which major city on the east coast you're living in. Black people will be confronting the reality of these celebrations intended to disguise the genocide that began with the the raising of the British flag and proclamation of "sovereignty" on January 26, 1788.

For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, January 26 is a "frontier" in and of itself. This is a power struggle. We are always fighting against the erasure of our history. I fight for my country; I'll fight for my people. We will stand strong on all fronts in 2017.

One more thing. Resistance in 2017 is guaranteed to be led by black women—more provocative than you've become accustomed to. Don't be scared, activism is sexy. Blacktivism is transcendent.

Murrawah comes from Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J) country in Central Queensland. She is a campaigner and spokesperson for the W&J people's Family Council. She is a part of the Wirdi-speaking people who have kinship ties to the broader Birragubba peoples. Murrawah also identifies with her ties to the Kangalou, Wiri, Yiman, Kullali, Munanjali, Goreng Goreng, and Bigambul peoples.