WA mounted police move indigenous protesters
from the ABC and Cairns News
Updated yesterday at 8:10pmFri 13 Mar 2015, 8:10pm
Angry scenes erupted at Perth’s Heirisson Island today as police and the city moved to dismantle an Aboriginal camp, set up in response to the State Government’s plan to close remote communities.
Dozens of officers, including mounted police and the canine squad moved in on the island at about 3:00pm, after the Perth council gave the group until midday today to remove their belongings.
Firefighters also extinguished campfires, drawing angry protests from the crowd of about 60 people who had gathered in the area, who said the fires were sacred.
Police on horseback lined up metres from the group as council staff loaded camping equipment onto trucks.
The City of Perth left one fire burning in the centre of the main campsite.
The site, near Perth’s CBD, had been described by occupants as a “refugee camp” for people displaced by the Western Australian Government’s planned closure of up to 150 of the state’s 274 remote Indigenous communities.
The State Government flagged the withdrawal of services to remote Aboriginal communities last year, after the Commonwealth announced it was cutting its own funding.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Tuesday backed the State Government’s plan, saying “what we can’t continue to endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices”.
Noongar elder Margaret Colbung said the planned closures would only add to homelessness and dispossession of Aboriginal people in the state.
“What are they going to do, where are those community’s people going to go?” she asked.
“We’ve got homeless people on the streets here in Perth. They’ve been here for years.
“No accommodation was provided for them. We attempted many times over the years to find accommodation for those people, and what happened?
“None of the governments, both Labor and Liberal, came to the party to do anything about it.”
She says Heirisson Island, which sits on the banks of the Swan River and is known locally as Matagarup, is a significant site for local Aboriginal people.
“This is an Aboriginal traditional ground. This is traditional birthing ground that belongs to the Noongar people,” she said.
“Until they come across with a pact or a treaty or an agreement, this land belongs to the Noongar people.”
Noongar elder Ben Taylor also raised concerns about a $1.3 billion native title settlement currently being negotiated with the State Government.
The majority of police left the area shortly after the final campsite was dismantled.
A WA police statement said officers were present to assist the City of Perth to ensure no breaches of the peace occurred, and that the public officers were not obstructed in their duties.
No arrests were made and no move-on notices were issued, the statement said.
The City of Perth’s chief executive Gary Stevenson said the lighting of campfires and use of vehicles on the island breached local laws.
“It’s not about the people being there but about the camping and the vehicles which were being driven all over the island,” he said.
He said the city would monitor the situation closely over the weekend.
“People that sleep rough, so to speak, are not breaking our laws unless they establish a camp,” he said.
“If they have a peaceful enjoyment of the island, there’s no action that the City of Perth would intend to take, but if the tents are re-established, if vehicles are driven on the reserve, then that would be breaching the law.”
The protesters remained on the island on Friday afternoon.
Heirisson Island was the scene of a major confrontation between police and Aboriginal activists in 2012, after a Nyoongar tent embassy was set up on the site to protest a native title agreement for the state’s south-west.
That protest, which also saw people camping on the site for more than a month, was shut down after police removed tents and sleeping gear and moved people on.