Bibbulman Tent Embassy Matagarup calls for sovereignty

Noongar elder Ben Taylor

Marianne McKay

Cortlan Bennett Nine News 21st February 2012

The eyes of an old man reflected generations of fear and mistrust.

As part of the "Stolen Generation" - taken from his birth mother and given to adoptive white parents by the government of the day - Noongar Aboriginal elder Ben Taylor lost all he ever was, and all he ever would be.

"Whether you're half-caste, quarter-caste or full-blood, you were branded a nigger," the softly spoken leader said, as he watched his fellow Aboriginal protesters outside Perth's Government House.

"I've suffered racism in this country for 60 years."

For the first 10 years of his life, the 70-year-old said, he didn't know what racism was.

"Children don't understand black and white," he said.

On Tuesday, not for the first or last time, land rights protesters took to the streets of Perth, marching on Governor Malcolm McCusker's residence to deliver a message to the Queen.

From their Heirisson Island "tent embassy" - set up a week ago on the banks of the nearby Swan River - the group of 40 traditional owners and their supporters marched down the city's main street, blocking traffic and eventually drawing a police presence greater than their own number.

They were protesting a $1 billion native title deal offered by the WA government to settle all future south-west land claims.

The protesters said they wanted sovereignty - not money.

What they got was a full water bottle hurled at them from the heights of an apartment block, narrowly missing a group of children leading the march, before it exploded on the road.

No-one flinched.

"Always was, always will be Aboriginal land!" they chanted.

The police, at that stage, were nowhere to be seen.

Outside Government House, the protesters tried to see the governor, as police negotiated access.

A group of elders was eventually allowed inside to deliver their petition asking the Queen to recognise their sovereign right to WA's south-west region.

"Sovereignty overrules everything else," protester Marianne Mackay said.

"Once we have sovereignty, there will be no deals with the WA government - it won't be their land to sell."

Mr Taylor was among the elders allowed inside, but the governor didn't greet them.

They left disappointed but not surprised.

"We've been treated like this our whole lives," Mr Taylor said, as he rested outside a church.

"They've dazzled a lot of Aboriginal people with money, but they've got to look at the wider picture.

"It's not what we'll get. It's what we'll give up.

"We'll sign away the land and end up with nothing.

"Give us sovereignty. Give us power over the rights of our people."

Mr Taylor said he didn't speak for all Noongar people.

But, he added, neither did the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council which had signed the $1 billion deal - though officially the council is responsible for all native title negotiations with the government in the region.

"We don't go along with the land council. They're going to sell us out," Mr Taylor said.

"What will we do with the money?

"We've lost everything else.

"Aboriginal people are living in hopelessness and fear.

"There's no employment, no recreation for our kids - they're still roaming the streets.

"The hospitals are full. The jails are full.

"Why didn't the governor come out?"