The Indigenous Solidarity Group (ISG) (1997 - 1999)

In 1997 and 1998, Friends of the Earth Melbourne hosted two significant gatherings with Indigenous People.  The first, held in March 1997 was entitled "A Gathering in Solidarity with Indigenous People and the Earth".  The second, held in November 1998 was entitled "Global Survival and Indigenous Rights".

The idea behind the first gathering came in June 1996 with the establishment of the Indigenous Solidarity Group (ISG).  This group had three advisors, Elizabeth King (Kerrup Jmara), Lionel Foggarty (Wakka Wakka) and Joan Wingfield (Kokotha).  The goal of the ISG was to provide a forum so that indigenous people could speak to non-indigenous people and educate them about the real history of Australia.  The two day March 1997 gathering was held at the North Melbourne Town Hall and was attended by about 150 people and featured 16 Aboriginal people from Australia and 12 speakers representing issues overseas.  A large contingent of Ngarrindjeri women attended the gathering to discuss issues relating to the Hindmarsh Bridge debacle. The key resolution for the gathering was "this meeting recognises Aboriginal sovereignty and accepts the rights of indigenous people in upholding Customary Law in Australia."

Unfortunately for the ISG costs blew out by $7,000 on the first conference due to complications of travel arrangements of people from the United States.  Much of the work of ISG over the following months was spent fundraising to repay the money back to FoE.  This was a serious hardship for those who remained with ISG.

In February 1998, the ISG then got a burst of new energy with a number of new people wanting to get involved.  The group again decided to arrange another gathering for November 1998.  This time the organising group was significantly larger and more time was spent planning the event.  A great deal of support for the second gathering came from Larry Walsh, who suggested that the gathering could be held at Maribyrnong on the grounds of Pipe Makers Park.

Over 500 people attended the second gathering over the three days.  The gathering made a big impact with many doors being opened and featured indigenous speakers from Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and international speakers from the United States, the Philippines, Costa Rica and Ecuador.  Of special interest was the attendance of almost 20 Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta women from Cooper Pedy who were building momentum to stop the nuclear waste dump being proposed for their lands.  The ISG was given only a day or so warning that the women were attending the gathering.  Remarkably as their train pulled into Spencer Street, local Wurundjeri dancers who were at the station for another arrival, did a welcoming dance for the Aunties.

Networking of indigenous and non-indigenous people at this gathering was very important. Many relationships were established at this gathering which in turn blossomed into important friendships.  For many grassroots environmental campaigners this gathering was the first time many people had even met indigenous people, let alone hear such passionate and powerful speeches.  Of special importance was the speech made by Wadjularbinna Nulyarimma, from the Gulf Country in Queensland, which had enormous emotional impact to all who heard it.

Arabunna man Kevin Buzzacott, speaking at the conference gave a word from his language to the ISG - the word 'Nuyumunda', which means 'Beginning the process of coming together/being whole".

A recurrent theme at the gathering was the need to recognise traditional lore/law and Indigenous decision-making structures.  This was highlighted by the resounding support for using the Treaty process in Australia and elsewhere to acknowledge pre-existing Aboriginal Sovereignty.

A third ISG gathering was tentatively planned to go ahead - possibly in Brisbane in 2000, but unfortunately never eventuated. The stress of organising two gatherings had taken its toll on the volunteers of the ISG and after a couple of months the ISG dissolved, although many of the people involved in ISG have continued to be involved in solidarity work with indigenous people.  ISG had hoped that the gatherings could be organised in a different area of Australia, however no one has, as yet, taken up that offer.

by Anthony Amis This was orginally published in the 30 Years of FoE history