Perth streets flooded with protestors standing in solidarity against the West Australian Government’s draft Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill.

The ‘Protect Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Walk’, which took place on Saturday, was organised by South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (SWALC), Native Title Services Goldfields (NTSG), Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation (YMAC) and the National Native Title Council (NNTC).

The walk began with a Welcome to Country by Noongar Elder John McGuire and was followed by an address from Martu Elder Bruce Thomas and a minute silence.

Walkers, who came from across the state, marched towards the Swan River foreshore, and across the Matagarup Bridge before congregating at Optus Stadium.

There SWALC Chair Brendan Moore introduced several speakers who each addressed the crowd about Aboriginal cultural heritage, the proposed draft bill and the necessary protections needed.

The message that resounded in all addresses was that the current draft bill isn’t good enough.

“We all come here from different nations – but we all have to stick together for one cause …. We all have the same law. All we want to say is no. We are not supporting this Bill until government comes back and rewrites this with us,” said Njamal and Pitjakarli Traditional Owner from the Pilbara Doris Eaton.

Yamatji man Dwayne Mallard questioned the effectiveness of the Bill and reminded WA Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Stephen Dawson, who was not present at the event, that his role requires him to do the right thing by Aboriginal people.

“There’s a couple of fundamental issues with [the Bill]. Obviously, a really great sticking point at the front end is the voice – or lack of. That there’s no right to veto,” he said.

“For human begins that descend from the oldest continuous culture in the world; yet to be told in Law that we have actually have no right to say no to the desecration and destruction of the very culture we are born into…. not just the tangible landscape and barna and hills and rivers but then also the mythology and Songlines – once gone are irreplaceable.

“For a culture that’s 65,000 plus years old it’s just no longer acceptable, it was never acceptable. It’s got to stop.”

Other speakers at the event included Noongar woman Geri Hayden, Nhanda Widi – Yamatji man Richard Evans, Spinifex Pilki woman Sandra Evans and Kariyarra woman Pat Mason.

“The voices in the desert are crying. They’ve said, ‘leave it alone, don’t touch it’ because the people in the desert are weeping, and mourning for their land,” said Evans.

“They are tired, because the Government never, ever listens. They have never listened to the people.”

Djabwurrung man from Victorian and NNTC CEO Jamie Lowe emphasised the messages sent by the speakers.

“The big thing especially from the messages you have heard today and over the last few years from the mob is that this [bill] doesn’t reach the standard of prior and informed consent. You heard that strong today,” he said.

“The days of doing things about Aboriginal people without Aboriginal people are over. Aboriginal people want to be designers of this Bill and also in the operations of it, they need to be in charge of that.”

By Rachael Knowles