A few days ago I visited the Coranderrk Aboriginal Reserve (1863-1924) on Wurundjeri land in Victoria.
The story of Coranderrk is one of resilience and courage in the face of colonisation, theft, genocide, betrayal and occupation.
Wurundjeri elder William Barrak, who is buried in Coranderrk, is one of the many heroes of the Aboriginal resistance.
In the 1870s, the white settlers and the so called ‘Aboriginal Protection Board’ had their eyes on the rich grazing land of Coranderrk and were scheming to rid the community from the land.
William Barak led the first Coranderrk rebellion marching with residents into Melbourne to claim ownership of land he called “my father’s country”. For Barak, Coranderrk was both a home and a last link to his vanishing culture and heritage. This early Aboriginal land rights movement was a success (Source: ABC).
A Royal Commission in 1877 and a Parliamentary Inquiry in 1881 on the Aboriginal ‘problem’ produced the Aborigines Protection Act 1886, which required ‘half-castes under the age of 35’ to leave, meaning around 60 residents were ejected from Coranderrk on the eve of the 1890s Depression. This made Coranderrk a non-viable enterprise, as it left only around 15 able-bodied men to work the previously successful hop gardens. Almost half the land was resumed in 1893; and by 1924 orders came for its closure as an Aboriginal Station… (Source: Treaty Republic).
In 2015 the discrimination of the Aboriginal people continues. As do their victories. In August protesters at The Block in inner Sydney said their battle cry had been heard with the federal government committing $5 million to building homes for Aboriginal families at the site.
Even though most Australians would like to believe ‘white Australia policy’ is a thing of the past, it is still very real. From the way we refer to the ‘China’ Shenhua coal mine, to how we treat men, women and children seeking asylum, to the cashless welfare card, to the lack of multicultural faces and voices in the media, ‘white Australia’ is very real. Children are still being ripped away from Aboriginal families.
My acute awareness that I live on land stolen land manifested in recent years after the end of the war in Sri Lanka in 2009. After 26 years of struggle for an independent homeland, the Tamils lost to a brutal Sinhala regime supported by geopolitical interests. Though I speak from the safety of my life in Australia, and I in no way understate my privilege, I now understand what it feels like to belong to a community whose land has been stolen and occupied, who continue to face discrimination and who are surviving.
Corenderrk is an important reminder of Australia’s true history, the one we are not taught about in school. The history is an important reminder of the present. Both are reminders of the importance of resistance.