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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 35 No 5. March 29, 1972

Bobbi Sykes: Fight For Rights

Bobbi Sykes: Fight For Rights

What level of organisation does the black militant movement of Australia have among the ordinary black people. What sort of contact do you have with these people?

Well yes when we have a demonstration in Canberra we bus people in from Melbourne and Wollongong. This takes a lot of organisation but we don't have any formal organisation, it is a collection of individuals. If you want to work you work. Shoot off thats cool, no dues no membership-just got to be black.

The Embassy is a bringing together of people over the land rights issue.

What sort of support do these groups have among the people?The panthers for instance do they have much contact with the people?

Some of the groups have very little. The Panthers have a good deal of contact with the people. Their support comes mainly from the young who have come off the mission. This is not financial support because people who come off Sherbery Mission dont have any money.

Where then does the money come from?

They don't have any. They are very often starving have nowhere to live. They have been evicted from their H.Q's for not paying their rent. Dennis Walker who leads the Panthers previously ran National Tribal Council and this ran on Govt. funds. When Federal Govt. finds out they are financing a fight against State Govt, the money stops. So now the don't support the National Tribal Council nor the Black Panthers.

Is there any way of overcoming a Govt, blockade on these channels of communication with tribal leaders?

Only personal representation, and this is very difficult especially on reserves. It is only possible to overcome these difficulties by going to the people which costs a lot of money. Money that we do not have.

Apart from the issue of land rights which has come to the fore with the Embassy, What other issues are of particular concern to you?

Combatting Police brutality. Combatting malnutrition. Trying to give the people something to work for, some hope for the future. Setting up food and housing co-operatives for instance.

What then, is your plan of campaign in this area?

In Sydney a legal advisary service, where we take cases for free, and file charges of assault against the police where this occurs.

Do you get support from the legal profession — the law societies for this service?

We get concentrated, sincere support from individuals. They are so dedicated we practically heve to make them work for themselves occasionally. They spend nights down at the watch house waiting for blacks to come in, when the cops bring a black through the door they leap up and say I want to defend this man.

What of the possibility of armed struggle? Would this be to defend Aboriginal land rather than all out urban warfare.


What is the overding philosophy of groups working in this area- are they socialists?

Yes but not the sort of socialists socialists are. The tribal structure of the interior is socialist even though the people dont know it. They practise socialism.

But does the movement have any view of the Australia they want for all Australians?

They surely don't have time to keep voicing their opinions in this area in the movement. They question whether marxism relates to them.

Do these Unions bring pressure by way of direct action?

No. Though on the Brockman issue they were just about ready to ban boats from Western Australia. But their support generally comes by way of money, or representations.

Just what was the Brockman case about?

Due to Rural recession Lionel Brockman became unemployed. He has 11 children. He went across the country trying to find help and employment. He broke into a shop and stole food for his family and they caught him and put him in jail. Four days before his sentence ran out his wife came and told him that they were going to put the kids in orphanages so he broke out and went bush with his wife and his kids. He was out for 6 months. He stole food, stole a gun from a farmhouse so he could shoot kangaroos. Despite the fact that the Govt. had 4 wheel drive vehicles, light aircraft and armed vigilantes they were unable to catch him for 6 months. They put 55 charges on him to justify the tremendous expense of catching him. They now have him in jail for 3½ years.

This was then an issue that raised public opinion?

No, Public awareness. This was more a campaign to gather black support for an issue not pertaining to their own lives.

You mobilised a lot of public support over the Brockman issue.

Amongst blacks yes. There is often a great deal of divergence amongst groups. They will oppose and have just because it came from such and such a group, we overcame this by approaching organisations as individuals. We activated people up and down the whole coast.

Aiming at what. Disruption of the reserve administrations?

No, just establishing communication at this point The reserves are in the hands of managers and Govt. appointed Uncle Toms.

What rule of law applies on reserves? Is the same that applies to all Australians, or does the manager invent as he goes along?

He doesn't need to invent it. He has a book of rules that tell him what he can and can't do, he then interprets them any way he wants.

Assuming a black commits some petty crime will he be sentenced by the manager to prison in the reserve?

It depends on whether he is a good nigger.

If he is a bad nigger?

He could be imprisioned for 6 weeks on the managers say so.

On the issue of land rights, just what did the Blackburn decision meant to these landrights?

The Blackburn decision quite simply states that the Australian Govt. recognises no previously organised society. Effectively this means that we are a non-existent people descendents of non-existent people therefore entirely without land rights.

What then of the Gurinjes claim against Vetseys? This is probably the most prominent issue of aboriginal land rights over the last couple of years.

Their claim shows we can rely on support from the tribes people. They only know know they are staying where they want to stay. They know nothing of the structure of Govt. in Australia but their state has been a shining example to the milttants in all the urban areas. The supposedly ignorant uneducated blacks can go ahead and do what we have been talking about for a long time.

This question appears to have been a rallying point for white liberals, was there any value in their support?

Yes. Because at that time we didn't have the organisational ability to muster our own people around this issue. They were able to find out for instance the subsiduarys of Vestey's so we could call an effective boycott. We had no access to information like that. You can be darn sure that in the administration only whites could have access to this sort of information.

Vesteys have now said that they are willing to let the Gurinjes stay at Wattle creek and it is only the Govt. that is proving difficult. What line of of action is intended to protect them?

Well the Gurinjes have put up their fences. They are not willing to go to the expense of going to court for another land rights decision after Blackburn decision last year. They see the futility of working along these lines.

Have any steps been taken to remove the Gurinjes from this land?

No the Govt, thinks it can sit there and starve them out.

Are they succeeding?

Thanks to the White Liberals no, we dont have the money to spend on food or trucks or anything white liberals have.

What will it mean if they win this battle - will it force the government to reconsider the issue?

Well I don't think they're going to win the battle - the Govt. may allow them to put their fence up.

The Northern Territory would be a special problem for aboriginals in that being federally administered, I guess it would almost be one big reserve?

No. On a reserve you get handouts.

Are there any glaring differences between the legal rights of whites and non whites?

Not in theory. But they have no access to political education and no knowledge of the political structure of the country, they have no knowledge of the existence of Canberra.

Australia has compulsory voting Joes the Govt, take steps to ensure the registration of black people?


Queensland is renowned for its bad treatment of the blacks. In that state are there differences in legal rights?

Yes in Queensland we have different legislation. Recent changes in that legislation make it applicable only to those who live in reserves. There even officially there is a different law. Off the reserves this occurs in practise by for instance selective prosecution by the police.

Are the blacks affected by compulsory education?

Yes, where there are schools they are compelled to attend school. They are all educated in the Western oriented education system. It goes so far The Tribal naming system gives every body one name. On the first day you turn up at school you are given two European names. These become your legal names. They dont teach you to write down your tribal name and it becomes ignored. This leads to a lot of confusion. The children go home and they don't know who the hell they are. The tribes have accused the teachers of stealing their children. They know whats going on. The children are taught to look on the own language with shame, their own family with shame.

Do the tribes attempt to keep their children away from school?

Bobbi Sykes

Bobbi Sykes

Yes, some tribesmen went to a school threatening the guy, telling him that if he didn't stop stealing their children they'd put a spear through him. The guy wet his pants on the way to Canberra to tell them.

Do you regard education as one of your main concerns?

If you want a bunch of militants then educate them. But they see the whole education system as a soul destroying process and want to avoid putting people through the same type of racist education system.

Do you have any difficulty talking with the ordinary black - for instance the fringe dweller?

I don't have any trouble, but some of the guys are viewed with suspicion. Its all a matter of how you do it. We each have to evolve a particular met hod by which we win their confidence. But some guy could undo the good work I've already done in the Northern Territory. They could do this very easily, if I got arrested they could distort it. They could say I was arrested for working against the people and that I am an enemy of the people.

How serious a threat does the Australian Govt. regard you and people like you?

They regard me as a threat but they won't arrest us on political charges like sedition. They like to arrest us for assault-things like that. But most of our people have been arrested for something. I must be one of the few blacks in Australia who has never been arrested. For those who have it leads to difficulites. They can never run for Parliament even if we wanted to elevate them to that position.

Do you have any thoughts of running people for Parliament?

No, but individuals have thoughts of running themselves.

You for instance?

No, there is too much buggerising round that distracts you the people. You must play footsies with too many white people when I'd rather be talking to black people.

Are there any answers to your problems in the Parliamentary system?

Well we will try out a different Govt. at the end of the year. If they don't perform we will know that both Govt. parties are up the shit. Those are already our thoughts but we will try them. But we must activate people on an individual basis—and many of our people know no other system.

They are not Uncle Toms they just know no other alternative.