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The NI Interview

Indigenous Peoples

The NI Interview
Robert Bropho
In three years the Summer Olympics are coming to Australia.
But Aboriginal activists like Robert Bropho are less than enthusiastic.
Joe Franke spoke with him at his home near Perth.

Robert Bropho: 'You can bear witness, if I'm dead when it happens, that violence will come to the streets of each capital city.' Photo by Joe Franke. Robert Bropho is a respected Aboriginal elder, an activist, a filmmaker – and a self-described ‘shit stirrer’. He’s a member of the Swan Valley Nyungar, an Aboriginal group living just outside Guildford, on a tiny remnant of bushland surrounded by the sprawling suburbs of Perth, Western Australia.

Like other Aboriginal communities across this immense country the Nyungar are fighting for both land rights and cultural survival. And Robert, now 67, is at the forefront of those efforts. Years of activism may have etched his face but they’ve also honed his mind. He has one foot planted firmly in the old ways and the other planted in the present struggle of his people to secure title to their land and hold onto their identity against powerful forces of change. What follows is an excerpt from a much longer conversation I had with him.

‘I worry about what is going to happen to us blackfellas. I’m worried about the young girls and boys who will become the adult women and men of tomorrow. What will their chances of survival be? Who will they turn to if they lose their roots? Will they just be forced to accept automatically what the white man says: that we must leave behind what we once were, that we must forget our rituals, our religion and culture?

‘The white man says there’s a bloke named Jesus Christ and a god in the sky. And there’s a devil down in the ground. They build their cities. They destroy the land, the forests. They pollute the water. Right in the middle of all their capital cities, they’ve got their worshipping places. Five days a week they go about their business. Saturday they go shopping and one day a week they go and pray for forgiveness from the god in the sky who knows what is right and what is wrong.

‘But we are a nation and our religion and culture is a long way older than Jesus Christ. He was only on the earth 2,000 years ago. We were the first race here, we were the inhabitants when the white man came. We’ve got sacred sites here dating back over 100,000 years – that’s a hell of a long time.

‘Black people today go to the white man’s school and what they are taught is how great the white man is. They leave out all the bad parts – how in the early days he’d come upon a group of Blacks and just shoot them all, how white men used to travel from a town called Bussleton down south of Perth on three-month excursions, killing blackfellas for sport. They’d catch them, then kill the men and rape the women. The kids they’d bury in the ground and have a sport of kicking their bloody heads off. Those things have got to be told.

‘The white men today can’t say: “Oh, that’s all history now, just forget about it.” He talks about his wars, “lest we forget”, and how Sunday is the day to pray and the 25th of December is the birthday of Jesus. He wants us to remember all that. But in Australia he wants us to forget about who we are and what we’ve been through. He came, he stole, he raped, he killed our kids and then he turns around and says: “What’s in the past, what we did to you, forget about it.” We can’t do that.

‘My own hope is that Aboriginal culture should be taught in all schools and white kids should understand it, so that the old hard-core people that’s got hatred for Blacks will die out. My only hope for this community is that those white kids of today will have a clear understanding when they take their place in society. The Government here is trying to have absolute control over Aboriginal people. They’ve got total control over the land, now they want total control over us as human beings. Until that’s done they won’t stop. So where is it all going to end? I can predict what’s going to happen. You can bear witness, if I’m dead when it happens, that violence will come to the streets of each capital city.

‘I believe we now have a good chance to show the world this lack of justice for Aboriginal people. We are planning now to disrupt the Summer Olympic games which are coming to Sydney in the year 2000. Indigenous people the world over should work towards stopping them. We’ve already started this effort and have had some feedback. If these Olympic games are stopped, if indigenous people come together to make this happen, then the white man has no-one to blame but himself, because he’s inflamed all that hatred.

‘I’ve lived my life studying things and I’m a pretty good judge of men and women’s attitudes. And one thing I’ve always taught is that if you have anything to say to somebody, you say it. You know then where you stand. This Government in power believes old Aboriginals like me are living in the past. I think they’re hoping I’ll die out beside the road.

‘But you’ve got to have a past to have a future. If you haven’t got a past, you haven’t got a future. You only have the present moment. You’re going up the road with nothing planned in your bloody head.’

For more information contact:
Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, Locked Bag 14, Kingston ACT 2604, Australia. Tel: 6 271 5120; Fax: 6 271 5168
Website – http://www.austlii.edu.au/car/

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