He is wizened. Lines mark a face that has felt the sun’s warming rays and burning beams, eyes see the land that holds his people’s Dreams, ears hear the stories his elders told him as a youth, the stories that he is now charged with handing down to subsequent generations. The body may no longer move with the agility of the kangaroo or be fleet as the emu, but he has endured in the most harsh of climates and remote of locations to see the impending destruction of all that he has been charged with protecting. Ned Cheedy, at 105 years of age, should be relaxing and telling his Dreamtime stories in the ageless tradition of such a spoken culture. Instead, he is worrying about losing the very legacy he has the responsibility of protecting, the Dreams of those around him, the very distinct possibility that his ancestors, his descendants, even he himself, will cease to be. Without control over how the Yindjibarndi land is used, this is entirely possible.
It’s a hard concept to grasp, this belief held by Australia’s Indigenous that time and place are on a continuum. Past, present, future, they are all one, held by the land, in the sky, flowing in the waters and whispering in the trees. The creatures that crawl across the vast red soils are as much a part of that Dreaming as the images painted by elders such as Ned. But like all continuum’s it is not unbreakable. And like all of us, they want nothing more than to determine the path of their own futures and those of their children.
The Yindjibarndi have, I suppose survived the worst of the horrors that befell their eastern brethren in the past 200+ years. Where the Aboriginal nations of the east have been fractured and blended so that the stories have become mixed and the details have been lost, the Yindjibarndi have someone like Ned who remembers the traditional ways, despite the Aboriginal Protectors and White Australia Policy. That makes the Yindjibarndi and a few other surviving indigenous nations so special. It is what makes someone like Ned deserving of the prestigious NAIDOC Lifetime Achievement Award that he received last week, but the award has the potential to be hollow.
In the past few months, Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) has marked out, ‘pegged’, over half of the Yindjibarndi #1 Claim territory backed by the National Native Title Tribunal and West Australian Minister for Indigenous Affairs Peter Collier. FMG has succeeded in splitting the people of the Yindjibarndi nation, pitting brother against brother in the truest sense of the word and is ploughing on with its Solomon Hub project.
The whole concept behind the arguments put forward by Bakchos on Blak and Black come back to the Western concept of the rule of law. He has only ever asked that the descendents of the people who subsumed this island nation and the many Indigenous nations of which it is comprised are subject to and answerable to the very same laws which were forced upon the Aborigines themselves. Manipulations of process through incentives and costly legal proceedings subvert the rule of law, leaving the little men without the financial or political clout to match the Goliath of big industry or the propaganda of such a giant. Such tactics make a mockery of Native Title and expose the hypocrisy of a democratic country in which, to quote a famous human rights activist “All men are created equal”. Well yes, equal, as long as you have the money to mire your opponents in legal proceedings and divide them with cash incentives. It shouldn’t be that way.
The Yindjibarndi are facing their darkest hour, with 100% of the Native Title Claim to be destroyed if the Solomon Hub Project goes ahead. On Monday July 18 at 8:30 pm on ABC1, Fours Corners will examine the dispute between the Yindjibarndi and FMG and look at the quagmire that is Native Title. The Yindjibarndi are not the only ones fighting for the sovereign rights to their land and they won’t be the last. They will not be the last people whose families are divided by tactics such as those allowed with the current systems that favour FMG. And once the Indigenous people of Australia are gone, it’s only a matter of time before there’s another minority group to be subsumed. Watch tomorrow night, read whatever you can lay your hands on and make your own decisions about the behaviours of both the Yindjibarndi and FMG. Then ask yourself, do minorities matter and if so, how can we ensure that their rights, be they Native Title, same sex marriage, freedom of association, whatever are not extinguished in this commodity rich, avaricious place we call Australia. Ask yourself, how do you ensure that the rule of law, the system that is supposed to treat every man the same regardless of economic, political or social circumstances, is made to function as it was originally intended, for without it the Australian democracy is nothing more than a mirage.