Camp Freedom versus the StolenWealth Games
'We wanted to make it clear to the mob, make it clear to the world, make it clear to our people, that we are here, and we're here, and we're standing strong. And we don't want nothin', we don't want nothin' of the Commonwealth here. They've stolen the land, built this country on Stolen Wages, built this country on the blood and bones of our people, and it's about time that history is acknowledged. And it's about time them royal families who are responsible for it all, they come down here, they get on our level. They ask to be here on our country, that's what needs to happen.'
Camp Freedom is the name of the base protest site set up by Aboriginal Activists for the 2018 Commonwealth Games held at on Yugambeh Land at Moondarewa at the Gold Coast in Queensland, and still lives on in our consciousness. Camp Freedom was a place to gather, a place to organise protest actions, a place to visit, a place to swim, a place for cultural performances and creativity, a place to rest, and mostly significant because we don't generally have access to these kinds of public spaces in Australia. The young Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance (WAR) and other organisers worked with Yugambeh Traditional Owners, the bureaucracy of the local City Council, Police and government officials for years before the Games started, to secure a permit for the site and ensure facilities for campers and visitors. It drew people from all over the world, and from all walks of life, including parents of athletes in The Games, who wanted to understand more about the Aboriginal experience of living under colonial oppression. Everyone involved seemed to take it seriously. One main thing that Camp Freedom still advocates for, is that of a Truth Commission to investigate Human Rights abuses, similar to other common mechanisms towards healing past wrongs, such as those initiated in South Africa and Canada (Brahm 2009).
|Camp Freedom, Gold Coast 2018|
|some of the Queensland Police Presence at Australia Fair Shopping Centre, Gold Coast 2018|
|screen capture, channel 7 news April 2018|
|Jenny Fraser with a photograph of her family matriarch, Granny Clark|
I had attended an initial planning camp for the Commonwealth Games protests held in November 2016, but it wasn't until I was monstered by Police a few months in the paramilitary lead up to The Games, when my commitment to protest was affirmed.
In September 2017. I was targeted by the Queensland Police on a train, and when I responded by writing down their ID numbers, I was arrested for Fare Evasion within minutes, handcuffed, manhandled, publicly accused of smoking and carrying drugs, escorted to a paddy wagon, patted down and driven to a car park, where I was let go. (Fraser 2017) I actually had a ticket, so the charge was quickly changed to Fail to Produce Ticket, and also Obstruct Police, and I was required to go to court. I made an official complaint to the Police Minister, which was reviewed by the Police "Ethical Command" Unit, who found the Police in question to have committed no breach of conduct... In order for me to get Legal Aid assistance, I was required to plead guilty in court, and because I had no prior record, the judge put me on a good behaviour bond for months, which happened to last until one week after The Games were over... This could have made protesting more of a risk for me, but it is a human right after all. I wasn't the only one harassed, as the preparatory Paramilitary exercises were being undertaken all around the region in South East Queensland and across the state border into Northern New South, other people were being monstered and also had batons, pepper spray and guns pulled on them which were recorded in places like Byron Bay (Graham 2018) (Ford 2018) and Nimbin (Hoeben 2018). However, it does not seem like it is over, as one week after The Games were finished, I also got a phone call from the Police on the 22nd April, on a Sunday, informing me to expect a fine for a car accident that I had in 2017, which the Police had never even attended on the day in question... I elected to go to court, but the Police decided to drop the charge of 'Driving too close to another vehicle'.
My personal hopes for Camp Freedom was for it be a spiritual and cultural experience for locals and visitors alike, such as I had experienced in 2006 "During the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, it was at Camp Sovereignty where the spiritual healing developed. People felt peaceful and they felt safe, because the smoking ceremony at the sacred fire was healing. The introduction of our Aboriginal law, to the overall protest efforts, was the biggest contributor to the success of Camp Sovereignty." (Thorpe 2016) Some of the Indigenous Arts Community and others showed up to support Camp Freedom, performing and creating new work, which also helped to lift the vibration of the camp. We did this because real culture cannot be stopped, not because there was money in it for us, not because we were welcome at the Royals table, not because a government institution anointed us, and definitely not because we were part of a staged template, or a circus run by a circus, used by the Director of other Games formats already seen around the world. It was at Camp Freedom where our ongoing culture and consensus was consistently present throughout the two weeks, and as a parting gift, a Bora Ring was constructed with beach sand, in the shade of the space where yarning and decision making took place. Aside from the extreme Police response to the presence of Camp Freedom, I feel like our hopes were fulfilled and we did justice to our ancestors from all over the country. It must have been powerful, because the Bora Ring was immediately removed once Camp Freedom was vacated (Wharton 2018).
* This is the unedited version of the essay that also appears in the Maroon Magazine marking the 10th annual Maroon Conference in Jamaica 2018
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