Gurindji strike against Government Intervention

Kalkaringi - Northern Territory
Kalkaringi - Northern Territory

Media Release 18th October 2010

On Wednesday 20th October Gurindji workers and residents from the remote Aboriginal communities of Kalkaringi and Dagaragu will stop work and stage a protest against the NT Intervention.

Gurindji leaders are saying that the closure of the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP), local government reforms and the seizure of land and assets under the Intervention have had a devastating impact on the community. The Labor government promised to phase out remaining CDEP programs and transition Aboriginal workers into 'real jobs' but instead hundreds have been forced onto income management and local services are struggling or have collapsed.

Dagarau is the site of the original Wave Hill walk-off, where Gurindji stockman went on strike against Vesty's station to fight for equal wages and the return of traditional homelands. The Gurindji people have a proud history of standing up for Aboriginal rights. They say that since the Intervention these hard won rights have been stripped away.

Protest spokesperson John Leemans says the community is sick of being bullied by the government and wants control of local employment, housing programs and Aboriginal Land handed back to the community:

"Prior to the Intervention we had nearly 300 CDEP workers employed in municipal services, construction and maintenance roles. When the government took over and abolished the community council and CDEP everything came to a halt. We went two years without regular rubbish collection because the truck was seized. Houses and buildings are in desperate need of repair but there's no funding for workers or materials."

"If you go out to Dagaragu you'll see the evidence these cuts have had on our people. Everything we built has gone - the old CDEP office, the brick making shed, the nursery, the health clinic, the old family centre. Soon we may lose the bakery. Houses that are now under Territory Housing control are overcrowded and falling apart. The damage is just overwhelming."

"We now we have around 40 workers left on CDEP and training programs. Many are working 35 hour weeks but under the new laws they're working for nothing but a Centrelink payment. It's worse than working for the dole, because half goes onto the BasicCard and can only be spent at approved stores. History is being repeated here, with our people forced to work for rations again."

Representatives from trade unions and residents of neighbouring communities will join with the Gurindji people on October 20th.

Many Gurindji will also travel to Alice Springs to join national rallies on October 29th calling for 'Jobs with Justice' for Aboriginal workers and an end to the Intervention. These protests are being supported by numerous organisation including Unions NT, the CFMEU, Tangentyere Council and the National Association of Community Legal Centres.

"The government has got to listen to the Australian people, the churches, the unions, the UN. Everybody around the world is condemning this intervention and the government can't ignore the world. They have to demolish this law", concluded Mr Leemans.

The protest will begin outside the store at Kalkaringi at 11am on Wednesday October 20

John Leemans on 0438 345 155

Get Involved!
Melbourne Anti-Intervention Collective (MAIC) meets every Monday, 6.30pm at the New International Bookshop (NIBS). The bookshop is easily found in the basement of the Trades Hall building (Lygon and Victoria Streets, Carlton).

MAI Collective | Facebook

"The Gurindji people are famous in Australia because they went on strike from Wave Hill Cattle Station in 1966, challenging the regime of dire poverty and exploitation which then existed on northern cattle stations where they worked as stockman, station hands and domestics. In the end, the strike turned out to be not just about wages and conditions but about land rights. After a change of government, the strike led to the return of some of the Gurindji traditional lands in 1975. This was a major factor which led to the enactment of Land Rights legislation for the Northern Territory in 1974 and 1976."

Wattie Creek or Dagaragu was chosen as the destination of the walk-off. Later, Kalkaringi was set up about 8 kms away on the Victoria River as a town to service the nearby stations. Many Gurindji moved to Kalkaringi and now both Kalkaringi and Dagaragu are home to the Gurindji. Kalkaringi contains most of the facilities such as the Community Office, school, abattoir, garage and shop. The CDEP office, a bakery and Batchelor Institute facilities can be found at Dagaragu. The walk-off is celebrated every year on 22 August as Freedom Day. The walk-off and subsequent return of traditional lands has been immortalised in music by the local band The Lazy Late Boys and by Paul Kelly's 'From Big Things, Little Things Grow' .

Report back from Kalkaringi and Dagaragu trip 14 Oct 2010

Hi all, below is a report on the situation in Kalkaringi and Dagaragu.

Following a recent visit in the lead up to the October 20th protest the community is organising against the Intervention, and to highlight the impacts of the closure of CDEP on Gurindji residents. I also caught up with some of the CDEP workers on the BasicsCard that toured on Darwin construction worksites and spoke with NT Unions reps with us a few months back. Also attached is a quite comprehensive interview I did with John Leemans about the history of CDEP in the community and the impacts of the intervention and the Shire takeover.

Since that time not much has changed for Peter Inverway (PI) and the crew of about 10 construction workers who were previously under the 12 week ITEC contract (later extended by more than 6 weeks) refurbishing an old power station into a working community art centre. These workers were being paid on the Basics Card alongside promises that would earn a White Card (construction safety induction card which can be earned in a classroom setting in only a few hours anywhere else) and which they are still waiting to receive.

Since IRAG's last visit to Kalkaringi Macklin's department issued a response to the claims we made that people were working nearly fulltime without wages - by saying they identified only 8 people in the community working for the BasicsCard and that if such a 'training' program such as ITECs continued where people were working over the requisite 16 hours a week they would be discontinued. This hasn't happened, instead ITEC boasted in an article to the Katherine Times on the success of the program and have since extended it by bringing another 14 workers onto the 'construction traineeship' under the same conditions, though I'm aware of only another 5 participating in the project at the moment and receiving only a quarantined Centrelink payment and BasicsCard.

PI's construction crew now have projects directed by the Shire and ITEC which could easily last into next year (currently they're working 8 til 4pm fencing the air strip five days a week) and after that will be reconstructing the community oval and upgrading the cemetery. About half of that crew are still working for the BasicsCard.

I also met two carpenter 'trainees', Nathan and Asmon, working for the BasicsCard recently put on by the Shire, one of which has several years experience doing carpentry work for the old community council through CDEP.

Their boss is a whitefella named Gavin recently employed in the only fully waged carpentry position available with the Shire, though he is strongly against the work for the BasicsCard arrangement. Nathan and Asmon are both working on average 38 hour weeks. Nathan gets $160 week on the BasicsCard and $140 cash, with $25 left in his 'kitty' after rent of $60. This does not even leave enough to buy lunch while at work, and some sympathetic workers with the Shire have organised under the table 'smoko vouchers' for workers on Centrelink money.

John Leemans is the main organiser for the October 20th protest and knows the history of CDEP at Kalkaringi and Dagaragu well, having worked in the program for nearly five years as a brickmaker in the local workshop He now works for the shire as a CDEP and works coordinator and mentor. He wants to make the central focus of the community protest the issue of job losses and loss of services through the abolition of CDEP, particularly in Dagaragu where the impacts have been devastating.

Closure of CDEP in Dagaragu

John took us on a tour of Dagaragu to show what the community had lost over the last three years with support being pulled for CDEP programs. CDEP has been operating on Dagaragu and Kalkaringi since 1988. Until three years ago the community council/shire had between 250 and 300 workers on their books, from a population of around 800 A CDEP office coordinated the day to day running of the programs and worked with a CDEP kitchen to prepare meals for workers throughout the day. CDEP covered just about all the basic functioning services in the community which included housing and infrastructure maintenance and construction, a parks and gardens crew, rubbish collection, water services etc etc. Through CDEP the community built and ran a bakery which also supplied nearby towns and properties, a brick making factory for all local infrastructure and housing construction, a health clinic and old age centre and carer's facility and many more successful programs. Bar the bakery which is just holding up a couple of days a week, not one of these is running now. The elderly are now forced to live in carer's facilities at Katherine 500ks away, and incidents of trachoma have increased since the parks and gardens mob have stopped and the oval the kids play in is nothing but dust.

Incredibly, when the Shire took over the communities of Kalkaringi and Dagaragu went without rubbish collection for over two years while the truck was locked up, forcing residents to create a makeshift tip on the edge of town - it has only just restarted recently. Sadly many of the buildings constructed through CDEP are completely run down now, and the Shire continues to let hundreds of wild donkeys roam the streets of Dagaragu and use the empty buildings as shelter (!).

When the VicDaly Shire first came into operation they promised the community alot more funding, 'more than CDEP', for community building projects and proper jobs, but since then residents have experienced dramatic cutbacks in service levels in all areas. For instance, the carpentry workers were explaining that now in order to have a routine housing maintenance request filled a resident has to lodge a request with the Shire, this is faxed to Katherine and then must be approved by Territory Housing including filling out a survey of how the item was damaged, then if permission is granted to repair the item this goes back to the Shire then on to the carpentry workers to repair. This process takes on average a month or more even for immediate problems with water or locks. Previously a resident would walk in and notify the community council office and it would be fixed within a week.

John Leemans has estimated there are up to 150 names on the wait list for work with the Shire. There are now only about 20 fulltime positions with the Shire, and more often than not they go to somebody from outside the community. John also estimates there to be around 15 people working fulltime for the BasicsCard and another 10-15 still on CDEP. Many people have already left town looking for work in Katherine and Darwin. AJ, who works as a family support worker and domestic violence educator with Centacare claims Centrelink are actively encouraging people to leave and look for work elsewhere.

Before we left we screened the film Our Generation in the main park to a fiery response with many people keen to come down to Alice Springs following the community protest to take part in the NDA. We got the Jobs with Justice statement passed around to local workers who are very keen to see the statement published.

Union Support

Peter Herman the LHMU organiser for the top end region including Kalkaringi visited the communities last week to catch up with PI's construction crew and others working for the BasicsCard who joined the union during when Paddy, Richard Downs and Miguel Occiones from the LHMU visited last time. They held a meeting at Top Springs with around 40 members and non-members and pledged support for the community protest around the campaign for local jobs, including sending union delegates down on October 20th to help out.

While we were there ABC Darwin said they'd be sending a crew to cover the protest and since then John has been talking to alot of media, and some Darwin-based church groups with encouraging responses. Rosie Kunoth-Monks from Utopia is organising to go up on the day and bring a mob to lend their support. John, AJ and PI will be coming down to Alice Springs to take part in the NDA on October 29 and we're still trying to organise a vehicle for a group of strong women to come down as well.