SIXTY DAYS at Camp Sovereignty > by Scott Foyster

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Sixty Days Reflections on Camp Sovereignty by Scott Foyster

"What you are a doing is a disgrace!"

The shrill voice of a lone dissenter breaks the somber mood of the early afternoon. One, two, three, four police surround the man and drag him off. Throughout the barage of abuse Aunty Beryl continues reading the list of Victorian Indigenous soidiers who fought to defend this country. There's over 200, all forgotten, all ignored in the ceremony which just happened down the road. In front of Aunty Beryl, three possum skins lie, two painted red, one yellow. They are covered in photocopied photos of the soliders and their families. There is also a massacre map of Victoria highlighting all the known places where Victorian Aborigines were killed between 1836-1851. The scariest fact is dot 33 which simply reads: 1842 Skull Creek, Gippsland- unknown number killed. Walking past the photocopies later I overhear Robbie Thorpe angrily musing on the numbers that could mean: tens, twenties, hundreds, a thousand. Annoyed, he walks off stopping at a photo of an Indigenous woman to aks about its origins.

It's Anzac day 2006. The forty-fifth day since the fire has been burning in Kings Domain. Forty-five days since the Rainbow Serpent first travelled into the sky and began his healing of the land: his healing and awakening of the citizens of Melbourne and with it the World. Forty-five days since I sat around the edges of the fire listening to Aunty Isobel Cobb and Robbie Cowora light the sacred fire with the ashes they bought from the Tent Embassy in Canberra. Forty-five days since a group of us, punks, ferals, students, parents and kids, activists of young and old, indigenous and non-indigenous, walked forward gum leaves in hands and placed them on the fire. Since we sat there and watched the city disappear into a haze of smoke (not for the only time.) Forty five days since the tents went up and twelve days since they were taken down when the Supreme Court demanded that all 'creature comforts' be removed from around the sacred fire.

Camp Sovereignty, Melbourne 2006 In that time the camp has been ignored, harrassed, celebrated, admired, cherished and most importantly visited. People have felt ignored, defeated, grumpy, ecstatic, confused, angry, amazed, sad, bemused, delighted, frustrated, lied to, manipulated, proud, honoured. There's been tears around the fire, jokes shared, there's been secret meetings, marches through the city, flags and banners painted, letters written, flyers circulated, stews eaten, kitchens set up and dismantled, stages built, films shown (a fieworks display interfering with one of them!), new friendships have been made, old ones re-invented. Bikers have threatened to put out the fire only to walk through it, Corrobees have taken place (a group of dancers have been formed from people around the state) people have travelled down from Brisbane, Sydney, Torres Straight Island, South Australia, from Nigeria, Poland, America, Jamica, India. Kettles have boiled as helicopters have flown overhead, the media have swarmed hovering around looking for the latest news story, international press meetings have been made whilst up gum trees. The Queens been visited, the Australian flag has been burnt, the aboriginal flag has flown in the city. There's been discussions about 'Genocide, Sovereignty, Treaties' (Gavin Jennings unequivocally stated that there will be no republic in this country until a treaty has been signed).

I've heard repeatedly the numerous ways in which Australia has breached the United Nations Convention on the Prevention of Genocide:killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group (Stolen Generation); forcibly transferring children of the group to another group (Stolen Generation). I've heard how Victorian Indigenous Aboriginals own less than 0.001% of this land. I've become angered over the fact that indigenous Victorians are 16 times more likely to go to juvie; that only 34% of them finish year 12; over the fact that the life expectancy of Indigenous Victorians is twenty years less than that of non-Indigenous Victorians. There've been chants, shouting, marches, the centre of Bourke Street Mall has been occupied briefly. Captain Cooks cottage has been made into a crime scene. Banners have flown outside Bhp Billiton. Barrongs warning song has been sung. Poems have been read, songs have been written. Speeches have been made, politicians, sports stars, musicians (Gavin Jennings, Cathy Freeman, Michael Franti) have visited. We have danced and listened to acoustic songs. Learnt and watched traditional dances (the mating dance of the black cockatoo has been danced outside the exhibition building and at camp.) Salads have been made, barbeques cooked, breakfasts eaten. Food and clothing has been brought and left with campers. The West Papuans have been welcomed on Easter Sunday. Campers have come and gone and come again. And all the time the fire has burnt. It has rained, people have shivered, have huddled together under the shade of a couple of trees and still the fire hasn't gone out.

It's amazing to think that what was an idea in late January when I first attended a black GST meeting has become this. Something so organic, so problematic, so so real. Even the anticipated threat of violence, of police harrassment, has become a reality since Easter. Every little delivery of wood has been meet by a demand to burn it. A gunyah is built, the police demand to take it down otherwise they will smash it. A fire is lit to cook some food, the police come and put it. And so on ad nauseum. The mass media which stayed away whilst the shambles of the games went on have flocked around looking for some little story, little edge, little fact. The bouyancy of the first week has subsided into sleepless nights as the barriers and ropes that were put up have been taken down. As the rain has ruined the comfortable sleep of many. And throughout all of this people have come in their dozens like we have today. To sit and listen. To learn. To watch the dancers. To witness history in front of them. To listen to the sounds of the digeredoo rumbling through the earth. To sit with coffees, teas, bottles of water in hand and watch a corrobee before their eyes. Watch the Camp Sovereignty dancers dance the dance of the bee. Dance how to hunt down a kangaroo. The patience needed to sneak up on it, to ensure that you are not spotted by the roo before it hops away.

Sit and listen as Ringo Terrick talks about how the fire has allowed his spirit to fly high like the eagle, how it has awoken a spirit in all of us that we should let fly free. It is this spirit that is trying to be squashed. It is this spirit, this freedom that is trying to be reigned in. It is this spirit that we are taught to be scared of. The spirit of the fire, of the earth, of the body, of the minds conviction. The spirits that in all of us, the spirit, the spirit, the spirit... At six I head home. The day is over. The ashes from the fire have been dispensed to the tribes of Victoria where they will burn bright. In two weeks the cutural heritage act that has been granted to protect the camps fire will end. It's still not decided what will happen with the fire. There's talk of a permanent stone hut being put here. To commerate the fire, the 38 elders who are buried here. To commerate the site of the first indigenous reserve in Victoria. As I look around the crowd I notice a look of loss on a lot of faces. There's a sense of closure, of ending. I know I feel it and I sense that others feel it too. As I walk off and head back towards Flinders Street I feel priveleged, feel lucky to have known this has existed for 45 days. I hope the fire last for longer, much much longer. If not I'll always be left with the memory of riding a tram my jumper smelling like eculyptus. Map of Gondwana


POST SCRIPT: Just after midnight on the 11th May the fire was put to rest. A hundred people gathered around the fire to say their goodbyes in one last sacred ceremony. At midnight, with the protection act ending the police moved in, in spite of the agreement that had been reached between the park officers and firekeepers to put the fire out themselves. The men moved to the front where the police were coming from, the women moved to the back. As the fire keepers poured two wheelbarrows of dirt putting the flame to rest, 40 policemen barged through the women pushing and shoving them aside forming a horseshoe around the fire. The council hosed the already dead fire before dumping a truckload of dirt on the ashes. As the council worked and the police stood silent like stunned rabbits a group of protestors sang the tent embassy's prayer. By two everyone had left and gone home. For sixty days the sacred fire burned in the city centre. And although it's no longer burning there's 25 other fires healing the rest of the state. Not to mention the ashes waiting underground for a time in which it can be rekindled and the fire will burn once again.


Watch the Black GST video created in lead up to Camp Sovereignty.

The Camp Sovereignty blog was also set up for regular updates to Camp Sovereignty during it's occupation of Melboure's King's Domain.