I didn’t go to the Black Lives Matter vigil in Sydney today.
It was a dilemma. especially after the government took the matter to the High Court and the vigil was declared illegal, I felt a huge moral pressure to turn up. But I’m 73 and asthmatic, and I couldn’t see myself maintaining proper physical distancing in a potential crowd of 10 thousand that wasn’t allowed to spill out into the street.
So I wore black, I’m putting up this blog post, and I’ll make a donation to one of the campaigns of families of people who have died in police custody. (You can see a list of families here. It’s part of an excellent resource document prepared by the Australian Youth Climate Coalition with links to further reading and ideas for taking action.)
I also went with the Emerging Artist on a kind of pilgrimage. This year being the 250th anniversary of James Cook’s first landing in Australia, we went to La Perouse on the northern side of Botany Bay to see if we could find the place where Aboriginal people and allies gathered in April 1970 while Cook’s landing was being re-enacted at Kurnell on the southern side. We didn’t know each other fifty years ago, but we were both there.
I have two clear memories of the event. First, many people wore white headbands inscribed with the names of First Nations who had suffered at the hands and weapons of the invaders; one white man, whom I knew by sight, wore a headband marked ‘Hypocrite’, which I took to be an acknowledgement of his uneasy self-doubt – was he there just to assuage his own guilt? Maybe, I remember thinking at the time, but how could you choose to be anywhere else?
The other memory is hearing Kath Walker, later to be known as Oodgeroo Noonuccal, reading her poem ‘Dreamtime’. You can read the whole poem here. It begins
Here, at the invaders talk-talk place,
We, who are the strangers now,
Come with sorrow in our hearts.
The Bora Ring, the Corroborees,
The sacred ceremonies,
Have all gone, all gone,
Turned to dust on the land,
That once was ours.
The lines that struck me, carried on the wind to where I was at the very back of the crowd, and are central to my memory of that day, which were these:
The legends tell us, When our race dies, So too, dies the land.
That’s 50 years ago. Today we didn’t find the place where that ceremony happened, but though the land is suffering from the effects of colonisation and climate change, it is still alive and beautiful. So are its first peoples.
I did find some photographs at the State Library website, here.
Added later: Here with the Emerging Artist’s permission, is her painting from a photo she took on the day as people were coming back from having placed wreaths in the water. Recognisable in the foreground are Pastor Doug Nichols, Faith Bandler and John Newfong: