Noongar Tent Embassy members and the Last of the River People have gathered this morning in numbers alongside many of Perth’s record Aboriginal homeless to protest the State’s neglect. Only hours ago scores have begun to gather to later on today protest at Heirrison Island (Matagarup), the site where Noongar Tent Embassy had stood last year till confronted by hundreds of police officers who came to eject them.
The protest has been organised by one of the Last of the River People, Elder Herbert Bropho who is exasperated by the State Government’s out of sight out of mind attitude towards rising Aboriginal homelessness. Half of Perth’s homelessness is Aboriginal, and Perth has the highest rate of homelessness of any capital city in Australia. Mr Bropho is one of the leaders of the Swan Valley Nyungah Community (SVNC) which had its communal residences in the north-western Perth suburb of Lockridge closed down in 2003 by the then Geoff Gallop led Government.
“They made our people homeless, evicted us without notice and many of us with nowhere else to go but to finish up on the streets – many to die on the streets,” said Mr Bropho.
Tragically, Mr Bropho has lost two sisters and a brother to the streets – they died homeless on Perth’s streets.
Because of an overreaction by the State Government at the time to allegations of sexual abuse against one person from the SVNC Lockridge community the whole facility of homes was shut down, without recourse to natural justice, and everyone was made homeless. It was indeed a knee-jerk but diabolical reaction.
“Would they have done this to a non-Aboriginal community?” asked Mr Bropho.
Perth’s Aboriginal homelessness rankles in an otherwise affluent city, which beats as the cosmopolitan pulse of the mining boom State – Western Australia is the nation’s wealthiest jurisdiction proportion to population in terms of Gross State Product and in terms of having the highest median average for income per capita. Western Australia is responsible for 46 per cent of Australia’s mining exports.
Mr Bropho said he walks among the many homeless to listen to them, to let them know that at least the SVNC has not forgotten them. “I have walked alongside the homeless people and we have had enough,” he said.
Mr Bropho has just lost his 43 year old brother, burying him only days ago, May 10. The 43 year old man was made homeless with the 2003 evictions, and became ill on the streets. His passing follows the death of two sisters who in the years since the eviction were found lying dead on the cold dank streets within the loneliness of two consecutive Perth winters.
“Our family just buried our brother who was homeless since the State Government closed down the Swan Valley Nyungah Community,” said Mr Bropho.
“I will not rest until we get our community back.”
He said the homeless he has spoken to have said they have no faith in any government coming to their aid, now or in the future.
Indeed the May 14 Federal Budget has not allocated any significant or additional funding to reduce or assist with homelessness. The WA State Budgets have always consistently failed the homeless.
Mr Bropho is angered that it is not enough that the homeless have it tough and are dying on the streets but that they are also targeted, as if they are an eyesore, by police.
“Move-on-notices are only being used against black people,” said Mr Bropho. He said that WA is the backwater of racism in this nation and Aboriginal people are targeted. Indeed, Western Australia incarcerates Aboriginal adults and juveniles at the nation’s highest rates. WA Aboriginal adult males are incarcerated at the world’s highest rate. Similarly with Aboriginal juveniles.
“The Government has been ignoring our concerns about the desecration of our sacred sites (at the desolate Lockridge community) and now they are planning to desecrate Matagarup (Heirisson Island).”
The State Government has launched redevelopment works at Heirisson Island which had been where Noongar Tent Embassy had held strong for several months last year. Additionally, the former homes of the SVNC community are to be bulldozed and the area turned into a park – Reconciliation Park, but nothing is to be done for all those made homeless.
“They are already digging in the sacred Swan River on the Yagan (a 19th century Aboriginal freedom fighter) side and they are completely disregarding our right to religion, culture and laws.”
“It is time for (Premier) Colin Barnett to come down and face us.”
“It is time the Premier listened to us, the Traditional Owners.”
He said that it was time the State Government stopped negotiating backroom deals with the South West Land and Sea Council (SWALSC) which he said is not representative or in sync with Traditional Owners. “SWALSC and the Government are selling us out.”
The beleaguered family of the Brophos has had to deal with one tragedy after another since they were tossed out of their homes by the State Government’s 2003 closure of the Lockridge community homes.
Swan Valley Elders, who are also known as the Last of the River People, Herbert and Bella Bropho hurt deeply from the loss of their two sisters to the streets and now their brother. Just before his death, after nearly a decade on the streets the brother had tried to reclaim his home and returned to Lockridge – but he was moved-on by police. The next morning he was found unconscious on a Perth street. He was taken to hospital. Less than year later he would lose his battle with life.
He had liver and kidney failure, and his only tragic respite from the streets was prison.
Elder Herbert Bropho in chains outside Government House – Photo, Desire Mallet
“He was hounded in his last days of life for low level offences.” But Mr Bropho launched an inspiring campaign to have him released from prison into the care of his family.” In January. Mr Bropho chained himself to Government House till his brother was released – and indeed this transpired when a Perth Magistrate determined that Bail should be accommodated.
“We wanted him to die among family with dignity,” said Mr Bropho.
“We wanted him near us. We wanted to say goodbye to our loved one in culturally appropriate ways.”
Noongar woman and law student Marianne Mackay said that the Bropho family has “been persecuted” because of their father, who was convicted of sexual abuse offences. “The persecution of the Bropho family is unwarranted. It is about time everyone opened up their hearts to this family who have done no-one any wrong.”
“None of this would have happened, all the homelessness and the despair – Herbert’s and Bella’s brother and sisters dying on the streets and all the other poor souls who have spent a decade homeless and in broken lives – if the heartless and hysterical (Geoff) Gallop Labor Government had not overreacted and closed down a community because of allegations against one person,” said Ms Mackay.
The community has not given up on reclaiming a piece of Country and their homes. But time is running out for them as the Government will bulldoze the site for a park. – ”Where one supposes the homeless can sleep on the benches,” said Ms Mackay.
The Stringer is aware of six deaths on the streets of people made homeless from the 2003 closure. The Stringer has also met up with many of the homeless.
Abraham Alone (Bropho), a former Lockridge resident has been homeless for a decade.
“I have been homeless for ten years because they kicked us out of our homes. This destroyed my marriage and made my children fatherless even though I love them dearly,” he said.
“We can’t win our right to any justice because those who make injustice are more than powerful, they don’t even think we exist, to them we are not human, we do no matter.”
Damien Kickett has also been homeless for a decade.
“We live off the kindness of charities. The Government doesn’t care if we live or die.”
“Everyone must remember that it was the Government that made us homeless.”
The State Government intends to name the park “Korndin Kulluch” (Reconciliation Park).
Elder Bella Bropho said she objects to the name. She said “Korndin Kulluch” literally means “a strong home.”
“We object to the words ‘Korndin Kulluch’. How can it be a ‘strong home’ if nobody lives there, if innocent women and children that the State said they wanted to protect from sexual abuse are deprived of their home?”
“How could this possibly be called ‘reconciliation’?”
“Warra Minditch is what it should be called. ‘Genocide Park’ would be a truthful name for it, in our language and in theirs,” said Ms Bropho.
The coming weeks and months will see Noongar Tent Embassy members and SVNC’s Last of the River People highlight the plight of Aboriginal homelessness at Heirisson Island (Matagarup). In these weeks and months we will see what the Government’s response will be – will it be the framing of terms of reference and policies to address the homelessness issues their predecessors have created and which they have allowed to languish or will they send in once again a militia-like police presence as occurred last year, with mounted police, dog squads, tactical response groups and helicopters? – 150 police officers marched on Noongar Tent Embassy.
- Footnote - Western Australia Premier, Colin Barnett has done an about-face with his Government’s decision to effectively languish homelessness on many of the former SVNC community residents. His Government’s plan for the park flys in the face of what he said at the time in 2003 while in Opposition.
While in Opposition in 2003, Mr Barnett was highly critical of the Government decision to take over the land where the community residences were located and to evict the residents. But now as Premier, he intends to do what he labelled back then as a “denial of natural justice for the Swan Valley community.”
According to Hansard, the official parliamentary record of what is said in Parliament, Mr Barnett launched into a scathing attack on the Gallop Government for their actions.
“Despite all the rhetoric of the speeches that carry on about reconciliation, not one member opposite has criticised this Bill. Where is the reconciliation in this legislation? It denies Aboriginal people the right of natural justice. Where does the Premier stand on reconciliation?” Mr Barnett told Parliament.
“Why raise the Aboriginal flag outside this parliament when the Premier brings in a Bill that specifically denies Aboriginal people any right of natural justice? It is absolute garbage for the Premier to talk about reconciliation when he denies one group any right of natural justice on the basis of its race.”
Mr Barnett told Parliament “good people” did not support the State Government action.
“What offends me about this clause is the victims are denied their rights to natural justice. Why should they be denied those rights? Some of the victims are concerned about the land, about their homes and about that place.”
“Despite the horrors and the abuse that may have happened there, as I said before, it is their only home. Yet this Bill denies them any right to pursue the matter at law. That is an extraordinary thing for a Parliament to be asked to do. I do not agree with this clause.”
But Premier Barnett version 2013 is a whole different story.