Australian Indigenous Voice: Three generations of First Nations men share their views on the Australian referendum

Brisbane, Australia

Before Australians last voted in a referendum on First Nations people in 1967, Uncle Bob Anderson set up a table and chair at a tram stop in central Brisbane.

From his railway office he would tell anyone who would stop and listen that Australia had its horses, cows, sheep and goats, but not its indigenous people. “My question is: Do you think they should be? » he would say.

Some 56 years later, the elder Ngugi sat on a chair in the hot Brisbane sun on Sunday, his wispy white hair covered with a straw hat, his presence a sign of support for another referendum concerning his people.

Nearby, thousands of people gathered for “Walk for Yes” rallies in several cities across Australia ahead of the October 14 vote.

On that day, some 17.5 million registered voters will be asked whether Australia should amend the constitution to include a permanent body of First Nations people to advise the government on matters affecting them.

Now 94, Anderson says a yes vote is not only important for him but also for the country.

“By talking and walking together as a nation and society, we will share a common destiny,” he said.

But with less than four weeks before the vote, polls suggest that the gap between supporters and opponents is widening, in favor of maintaining the Constitution.

Veteran Indigenous campaigner Wayne Wharton wore the reason for his objections on his T-shirt as he shouted at Yes supporters on a bridge in central Brisbane.

“You are a thief, a liar and a guardian,” he shouted to a mix of ages and races passing by. “Return what you stole, return what you stole, return what you stole.”

Indigenous activist Wayne Wharton delivers his message to supporters at the

The 62-year-old Kooma man told CNN over the phone that basically people are being asked the wrong question.

“In a well-meaning, justice-seeking country, this question would never have been raised or asked. The question that would have been asked would have been a question about (a) treaty or just occupation,” he said.

Like Anderson, Wharton remembers the curfews that confined First Nations people to the outskirts of town between sunset and sunrise, the racist slurs hurled at him and his family, the mistreatment of his forced ancestors of living in missions and the theft of First Nations children. as part of assimilation policies which subsequently prompted national apologies.

Wharton said he wanted “liberation, liberty and restitution” to be achieved through negotiations between the hundreds of indigenous nations and the people occupying their lands.

“I have seen a lot change in my 60 years, and as the white bigots who created this continent of privilege die, future generations have a greater sense of fairness and justice,” Wharton said.

“I believe that in my children’s time, a lot of these problems will be overcome. And that’s why I want to make sure that the door of opportunity will still be there for these people when the opportunity presents itself to create a just occupation, that the mechanism will be there and that it will not have been hijacked. by desperate people. in 2023, this changed the constitution.

Other First Nations people see things differently, including Nick Harvey-Doyle, who, at 31, is half Wharton’s age and a third the age of Aboriginal elder Anderson.

From his New York apartment, Harvey-Doyle, an Anaiwanese originally from New South Wales, co-organized a march on the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday, attended by more than 350 people, mostly Australians, calling for to yes.

“I come from a very small country town of about 10,000 people and I think there are about 8,000 Australians in the New York tri-state area. To me, that’s basically an entire country town worth votes,” he said.

Nick Harvey-Doyle studies in New York and calls for yes.

Harvey-Doyle is a former lawyer studying at New York University on a Roberta Sykes Scholarship which allows Indigenous students to undertake postgraduate research abroad. Sykes, who died in 2010, was the first black Australian to study at Harvard and fought for the Yes vote in the 1967 referendum.

This referendum, aimed at counting indigenous peoples in Australian census figures, was adopted with more than 90% approval.

Harvey-Doyle implored Australians living overseas to vote to improve the living conditions of First Nations people, who have lagged behind the country’s non-Indigenous population in health and welfare statistics for years. decades.

“As Indigenous people, we don’t feel like we have responsibility for our most intimate and important personal matters,” he said.

“I believe that Aboriginal people have a different way of life than non-Aboriginal people and that the current structures and institutions that we have in place do not always recognize this and are not always in the best cultural place to meet our needs .

“In fact, it is extremely important to have a body enshrined in the Constitution that gives us the power, to advise on our own lives and our own problems.”

More than 350 people crossed the Brooklyn Bridge in New York to call for a yes vote in the Australian Voice referendum.

According to the Australian Electoral Commission, as of Sunday, more than 96,000 registered voters were outside Australia, including those living overseas and some 58,000 who informed the commission they would be traveling on October 14.

Although voting is compulsory in Australia, being overseas is considered a valid reason not to vote. More than 100 voting centers will be opened around the world to allow citizens to vote in person or return an absentee ballot. Overseas voting starts early on October 2.

To pass, the referendum needs a majority vote nationwide, as well as a majority of the population in at least four states.

Indigenous people will not determine the outcome of this vote – it will depend on millions of other non-Indigenous Australians, some of whom oppose Indigenous people being given a special place over others in the constitution, calling it “divisive” vote.

Wharton says the concept of millions of non-Indigenous voters deciding what is best for 3% of the population is racist in itself.

However, Harvey-Doyle says she is wary of the message a no vote would send to the country and beyond.

“If we vote no, it means we’re really happy to be apathetic about the poor living conditions that some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are experiencing, and I feel like that goes against that what does it mean to be australian to give everyone a fair chance. go,” he said.

“It will be a really sad global situation that we put ourselves in if we vote no. »


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