Monday, December 31, 2018

Camp Freedom versus the StolenWealth Games

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.'  
(Wharton 2018)

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
The 2018 Commonwealth Games were held in the Australian State now ironically named Queensland, which has a well known history of being a Police State. However, generally Australia is not known for contemporary Terrorism attacks, and has a relatively smaller population, compared to other large countries. Yet in recent years, Police powers have drastically increased (and accountability decreased) with the hosting of major events, like the 2014 $500 million+ G20 Economic Summit in Brisbane, where Operation Southern Cross saw the introduction of unprecedented stop and search powers, a new state of the art Command Centre (Madden 2014), and now Police no longer have to wear name badges. The strategic incapacitation of the protest “likely to have drawn up to 120,000 people at the G20 summit in Brisbane was reduced to as few as 1,000 because of draconian protest laws, Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) has been told.” (Baker 2014). Nonetheless this did not stop spending on a 10000 strong Para Military force (Drum Cussac 2018) or ramping up new bunkers (Pierce 2017) and Police powers in time for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, and retaining the use of Facial Recognition Software (Roberts 2018) and increased powers to conduct personal searches without keeping a record now that The Games are over. (Courier Mail 2018). Despite the Police publicly stating that there was no need “I have to reinforce that there is currently no specific threat against the Games or against anything in Queensland” ( Armbruster 2018)
some of the Queensland Police Presence at Australia Fair Shopping Centre, Gold Coast 2018
Aside from the over-the-top uniformed and under cover Police numbers at protests, the perimeters of Camp Freedom were swarming with all sorts of Police all day and night, Helicopters and drones overhead, rubber dinghies on the water, along with dune buggies, horses, motorbikes, pursuit vehicles, buses and surveillance vans. Despite the fact that Camp Freedom actually paid tens of thousands of dollars (B.A.S.E. 2018) to the City of Gold Coast Council for an official permit and bond cost (for Aboriginal people to camp on stolen land), the Police tried to serve Camp Freedom with a fake eviction notice on April 10. When that did not fool the camp, the government also sent in the Department of Childrens Services, The Health Department, The Fire Department, but they were in turn, evicted by the Freedom Campers who cited Sovereign Rights and the Illegal Occupation of Australia (Welcome To Country 2018). 'Camp Freedom has released a “Statement of Reason”, which, highlights our dissent from colonial common law and condemns the continued genocidal actions and illegal occupation of our sacred homelands.' (Hartnett 2018)
screen capture, channel 7 news April 2018
The 2018 Commonwealth Games was held on my Ancestral Lands, on Yugambeh Country, which is now known as the Gold Coast. My only involvement was in protest of The Games, and I felt like I had a lot to protest about. My direct ancestral line on my Aboriginal side of the family, has had to deal with oppression for most levels of survival including the impact of massacres, the fear of child removal, living under The Act and the permit system, stolen wages, broken families and the culture war. Therefore, as an Indigenous person with old people who were grossly affected by colonial expansion, genocide and cultural assimilation, I view Indigenous Decolonisation as a process in understanding the history of our colonisation, rediscovering ancestral traditions and cultural values, while also Indigenizing spaces, and expressing my own contemporary world views creatively. It is in this way that we can heal and write ourselves into contemporary history making. However even in the mainstream arts the Gold Coast is well known as a Cultural Desert (Smith 2018), and Aboriginal people only make up less than two percent of the Gold Coast population (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016). Interestingly, the Gold Coast is the focus for Foreign land buyers more than anywhere else in Queensland (Hele 2018)
Jenny Fraser with a photograph of her family matriarch, Granny Clark
My own commitment to responding to The Games became serious once I had noticed that a young Maori woman (from New Zealand) had been appointed to the first new Indigenous Art Coordinator position at the Gold Coast Arts Centre in the lead up to The Games. 'This strategic manoeuvre by White Gakekeepers was culturally and ethically wrong, to appoint a Maori to speak on behalf of Aboriginal people, and take an identified Aboriginal position, and the support that it entails (propped up by the gallery - while at the same time they block authentic Aboriginal artists and curators voices). It is also unnecessary because there are qualified, experienced and knowledgeable Aboriginal curators being blocked from this position.' (Fraser 2017) I contacted the associated politicians and gallery figureheads. The Gold Coast Mayor and the Queensland Premier did send an official letter in response, but could only manage to point to each other for responsibility. However there was no response at all from the Management and Board of the Arts Centre, including their one (non-Yugambeh) Aboriginal Board member. Yet plenty of every day Australians, and Maori had a lot to say online in responding to my objection, merely for the sake of opposing an Aboriginal viewpoint, not so much reflecting any interest in the Arts. Until The Games organising frenzy, there was never an Aboriginal Curator position there, or anywhere else at the Gold Coast, and now that its over there still aren't any.
a screen capture of the petition page on : Aboriginal People managing Aboriginal Art

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).
Camp Freedom Bora, Gold Coast 2018
by Jenny Fraser

* This is the unedited version of the essay that also appears in the Maroon Magazine marking the 10th annual Maroon Conference in Jamaica 2018 


Australian Bureau of Statistics (2018)

Armbruster, S. (2018) Security set for Commonwealth Games, SBS World News video, March 27,

Baker, A. (2014) G20 lockdown: the challenge of balancing freedom and security, The Conversation,

Brahm, E. (2009) What is a Truth Commission and why does it matter? Peace and Conflict Review – Volume 3 Issue 2 (Spring 2009), 1-14

Drum Cussac (2018) Analysis: Security at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, Australia. May 14,

(B.A.S.E) Brisbane Aboriginal Sovereign Embassy (2018) A proud message from WAR Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance. ,facebook page, April 14,

Courier Mail (2018), Gold Coast Commonwealth Games: Police to retain search powers, newspaper,

Fraser, J. (2017) Aboriginal People managing Aboriginal Art, Petition

Fraser, J. (2017) Wrist Damage detail, photograph, September

Ford, M. (2018) Police officer who struck 16yo with baton 12 times outside Byron Bay hostel defends his actions, March 29,

Graham, B. (2018) Woman ‘knocked unconscious’ during Byron Bay arrest, February 13,

Hartnett, A (2018) Camp Freedom Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018. April 20

Hele, M. (2018) These are the suburbs where foreign buyers really want to own Queensland homes,

Hoeben, S. (2018) facebook post, March 31

Legrand, T. & Bronitt, S. (2015) Policing the G20 protests: ‘Too much order with too little law’ revisited. Queensland Review, 22, pp 3-14 doi:10.1017/qre.2015.2

Madden, N. (2014) Brisbane G20: State-of-the-art Police Operations Centre to utilise hundreds of cameras, November 10,

Pierce, J. (2017) Queensland Police unveil top-secret security bunker to protect Gold Coast during Commonwealth Games, October 19,

Reagan, J. (2014) Brisbane G20: State-of-the-art Police Operations Centre to utilise hundreds of cameras, ABC News,

Reagan, J. (2018) Australian Police Down Rogue Drone at Gold Coast Games

Roberts, G. (2018) Commonwealth Games facial recognition software to stay, but when will it be used? The Queensland Government won't say,

Smith, A. (2018) How the Gold Coast games transformed a resort region into a city, April 13,

Thorpe, M. (2017)

Welcome To Country (2018) Media Blackout: the moment police were evicted by Aboriginal protesters, April 16,

Wharton, R. (2018) Transcribed from Protesters Block Queen's Baton Relay by 7 News Brisbane, a video embedded in the online article titled 5 Reasons to join the Commonwealth Games Protests featured on the website Welcome To Country (2018)

Wharton, R. (2018) May 20 Facebook Live video