Matagarup. The frontier wars never ended, were never won

Police moved in to Matagarup (colonial name: Heirisson Island) yesterday, site of the Nyoongar Bibbulman Tent Embassy in Perth (Western Australia) —  some fifty police, including a line of mounted police and dogs.

They removed camping equipment, tents and sleeping bags. But the fire continues to burn, the Embassy remains, and there has been a call for donations to re-provision the encampment [cash donations can be made here].

Matagarup has been designated a refugee camp for those about to be displaced by the planned closure of up to 150 of 274 remote Indigenous communities in Western Australia.

The bridge in Melbourne was blockaded for a time in solidarity, a letter has been sent to the UN by the Sovereign Union of First Nations and Peoples in Australia and Head of State of the Euahlayi Peoples Republic, and there will undoubtedly be further protests. Tammy Solonec’s article on the devastation of Oombulgurri eloquently explains what the closure of remote communities entails.

An excerpt from the letter sent to the Secretary-General of the UN by Ghillar Michael Anderson:

We are now witnessing a full cycle of the historical wheel, that is to say when the Australian colonies and their British masters relied on the textile industries for their wealth, the colonial states of Australia, including Western Australia, cleared the land of Aboriginal Peoples in order to prevent Aboriginal resistance and opposition to the usurpation of their Country, without any form of redress or compensation.

These recent most despicable acts of the Western Australian government are a repeat of clearing the land so as to ensure no opposition to mining and other commercial developments.

Some footage (Marianne Headland McKay on what’s happening at Matagarup) and images from yesterday’s events, and some remarks from me below.





There is recurrence in these events, scenes of colonial re-enactment precisely because colonisation has never quite succeeded in entirely removing Indigenous people from their lands. Sending mounted police in to clear Matagarup was calculated to send a very loud, recognisable message: this is a frontier war. And the frontier wars have never ended.

For more than two centuries, these land clearances and attempts to move people on have created homelessness, refugees (in fact, if not in widespread understanding) — and Aboriginal Tent Embassies (from Redfern to Matagarup) are practical responses to that dislocation as well as reconfigurations of cultural and political organisation around a persistent refusal to grant legitimacy and material credence to colonisation.

The attempts by the City of Perth to distinguish between the issue of homelessness and “protests over federal and state issues” is precisely about dismantling the material infrastructures that can sustain those protests as something more than the increasingly emptied gestures of, say, Recognise – emptied, that is, of everything that might be an impediment to the mining and other companies that have sponsored that particular project.[1]

There is a lesson here about the importance of alternative infrastructures to sustaining and exploring forms of life which the PM, invoking Natural Law,[2] sought to dismiss as “lifestyle choices.” The distinction between economics and politics — cherished by both small ‘l’ liberals and Leninists alike — is an obstacle to meaningful and effective action, let alone understanding of what’s at stake, here as elsewhere. There is a lesson here too about hankerings after recognition, not least because it presumes that the Australian government has credible possession of sovereignty and the ensuing legitimacy to recognise (or not).[3]

But more significantly perhaps, while the frontier wars have never ended, my sense is that on this occasion the Federal Government is set to lose this battle. I don’t doubt that people smarter than the PM and his Cabinet, in various corporations and levels of government, have realised that this is a real prospect, and that their intercessions might well result in a somewhat different outcome.

Yet even if or as that happens, those who have kept the fires burning have nurtured a growing and determined movement, the strength and shape of which is about to surprise and change us all.


1. Some of the companies cited as sponsors of Recognise and its events are KPMG, Lendlease, Sodexo, Accor, Transfield Services, NAB, CBA, Rio Tinto, Chevron and Woodside. Most of those are involved in either mining, real estate or, as with Transfield, both mining and immigrant detention. The techniques of displacement, enclosure and extraction are, of course, intimately linked.

2. ‘Natural law’ refers to the Catholic legal-theological basis given, since the 15th Century, for conquest of Indigenous lands. See Pommersheim’s Broken Landscape: Indians, Indian Tribes, and the Constitution (p.94), or the ‘Historical Context’ entry on the ‘Spanish Requirement of 1513,’ ie., ‘the divinely ordained right [of the Spanish monarchy] to take possession of the territories of the New World and to subjugate, exploit and, when necessary, to fight the native inhabitants.’ The Prime Minister Tony Abbott relies upon such precepts when asserting that Indigenous communities, because they do not accord with Catholic (and capitalist) economic norms, are a ‘lifestyle choice.’ He has previously applied the term ‘lifestyle choice’ to homeless people in general, and needless to say, it’s also a term conservatives sometimes use as a euphemism for queers.

3. Special mention should go to Melbourne’s anti-assimilationist capacity for moving beyond the suffocating benevolence of state-sponsored multiculturalism, diversity and inclusion, particularly with the disruption of Invasion Day events recently.

4 thoughts on “Matagarup. The frontier wars never ended, were never won”

  1. my friend marianne who is there said ‘
    Marianne Headland Mackay via Dougie Frankenfurt
    1 min ·
    Old file footage with article from yesterday. The video in this is from 2012 not yesterday’

  2. Oops, thanks Vaughn, I thought I’d inserted the vid with Marianne McKay, but seems it cycled over to the other video as I cutnpasted the link. Fixed now. No need to thank me, I’m thankful there’s such powerful resistance and strength.


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