Australian Broadcasting Corporation
The Aboriginal man who’s renounced Australia and declared his own sovereign government in northern Queensland
TONY JONES, PRESENTER: With all the recent argy-bargy over GST carve-ups and tax-dodging multinationals and budget speculation, you’d be forgiven if you didn’t notice another big issue muscle its way back into the news agenda this week.
Noel Pearson, arguably the most powerful voice among our Aboriginal leaders, put forward a compromise aimed at saving the push for Indigenous recognition in the Constitution.
Despite Tony Abbott’s pledge that he would “sweat blood” for recognition, the referendum has stalled and it’s in danger of ending up smouldering on the prime ministerial backburner, along with paid parental leave, corporate tax cuts and other dreams like the mythical budget surplus.
Noel Pearson decided compromise was essential to satisfy a power group of sceptical lawyers known as “con cons”, or constitutional conservatives.
NOEL PEARSON, DIRECTOR, CAPE YORK PARTNERSHIP (Monday): A successful referendum on Indigenous recognition requires a meeting of minds between Indigenous people on the one hand and constitutional conservatives on the other.
TONY JONES: These con cons are worried that high-minded, symbolic language might distort the Constitution and the law, so Pearson now wants a declaration of principles separate to and outside the Constitution where it could still have emotive power and influence in the way the American Declaration of Independence does.
NOEL PEARSON: I have come to see the value in pursuing symbolic and poetic recognition of the nation’s history and heritage in a declaration. It can happen in a much richer and fuller way outside of the Constitution rather than in a mean and mealy-mouthed way within it.
TONY JONES: The Pearson compromise was provoked by opposition from the right; we could say from conservative white lawyers, but they’re not the only opponents. Despite 250,000 people signing up to the Recognise campaign, there’s still no unanimous position among Indigenous Australians.
An influential minority say they want no part of the white man’s Constitution. Instead, they want sovereignty and a treaty with a government that still represents to them a colonial occupation of their land.
Well shortly we’ll be joined in a live debate between Tom Calma from Recognise Australia and outspoken elder Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, who says she refuses to be “swallowed up into the Constitution”.
First, Kerry Brewster travelled to Northern Queensland to meet an Indigenous man who’s taken matters into his own hands and declared himself free of Australian laws.
KERRY BREWSTER, REPORTER: On a playing field south of Cairns, I found Murrumu Walubara Yidindji, the man who has renounced Australia.
You don’t see Team Australia, you see Team Yidindji.
MURRUMU WALUBARA YIDINDJI, YIDINDJI TRIBAL MAN: Everywhere here is all Yidindji. Up to Port Douglas, down to close to Innisfail.
KERRY BREWSTER: That’s Murrumu’s son, little Jeremy.
MURRUMU WALUBARA YIDINDJI: What does little Jeremy know about his world? Well it’s a good question because he knows that we’re not part of the Crown, he knows we’re not Australian citizens. …
… This is our classroom. This is our lore. The lore never dies, it only sleeps, and Maya (phonetic spelling) Yidindji, which is Yidindji law, given to us by Gayaburra Goopi, our creator, is very much alive here today. You can hear, um, the cicadas, you can hear the creeks running. This is what life is all about.
KERRY BREWSTER: It’s a life far from Murrumu’s old one.
JEREMY GEIA: The council says it’s been forced to provide its own power and that’s been a costly exercise.
KERRY BREWSTER: For 20 years he was Indigenous television reporter Jeremy Geia.
MURRUMU WALUBARA YIDINDJI: It was brilliant. I enjoyed it immensely. And I have some fantastic memories. …
JEREMY GEIA: … Well what started off as two bottles of alcohol on Palm Island has ended up here in the High Court in Canberra.
KERRY BREWSTER: Jeremy Geia became the political correspondent for SBS’s NITV News.
JEREMY GEIA: That theme is set to continue this week in Parliament.
KERRY BREWSTER: And he was the first Western journalist to interview WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in London’s Ecuadorean embassy.
MURRUMU WALUBARA YIDINDJI: Jeremy Geia was a nice person, but it wasn’t real. The 40 years or so that I was masquerading around as that person, it took a long time for the coin to drop. It came to me during the leadership spills of the Labor Party when I was at the Federal Parliament reporting for NITV News and there was a tipping point there that said that it wasn’t real, it was just an act. I could have stayed in that world and done very well out of it, but something had to be done.
KERRY BREWSTER: Jeremy Geia abandoned his career and headed home to North Queensland.
From a house donated by a local supporter, he cut the ties, returning his passport and driver’s licence and shutting his bank account.
Backed by his tribal elders, he formally declared an area 1.5 times the size of Hong Kong to be Yidindji territory under control of the Sovereign Yidindji Government.
MURRUMU WALUBARA YIDINDJI: People asked me, “Oh, it seem a bit drastic what you’ve done,” or, you know, “You’re having a midlife crisis,” or things like that. Far from it. There are many people supporting us, whether it’s with a bit of food here or there. They know and they understand that this is Yidindji land and that anything on it belongs to Yidindji. …
… (Speaks Indigenous language) And welcome to our program today. That’s our Yidindji prayer. … If Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders are not constitutionally recognised, are they Australian citizens, ’cause that’s a pretty decent question.
TREVOR TIM, NATIONAL INDIGENOUS RADIO SERVICE: As a sovereign man, his law, the law of the land, the first law of the land, is on top of the Crown law. Murrumu understands that and Murrumu is running with that.
MURRUMU WALUBARA YIDINDJI: We’ve got some more talking to do in relation to Yidindji and its standing around the globe.
JEREMY, SON: That was boring.
MURRUMU WALUBARA YIDINDJI: Thank you! …
… This is the Yidindji number plates. These were created and authorised through the Sovereign Yidindji Government. …
… I’m not really worried about being pulled over at all, Kerry. …
… Let’s look at if I’m arrested. The leaders at the day will not be quarantined from any law in the future or action that we take against the Commonwealth of Australia, if indeed I’m interfered with. …
… Tony Abbott or Peter Cosgrove or whoever it may be in charge, you know, this is the remedy. Come and sit down and talk with us because we’re ready to do business for our territory. …
… Got nothing against Australians. You know, some of our best friends are Australians. …
ALAN OLIVER, YIDINDJI ELDER: They didn’t know who was coming. All they knew is there was all these horses and all these troopers coming and shooting them. When they cut the heads off the babies, the grandmothers, the grandfathers and everybody else, like the children, babies and that, they stuck them on a stick and then they pulled them apart. This was to ensure my granny’s tribe from coming in to here. And that’s the hurting part of me that really kills me because there’s nothing we can do. The only real way we’re going is the way that Jeremy is going and we’ve got to follow that track. He’s doing a top job and I’m so proud of him. Thank you, my brother, too. I meant to say thank you.
MURRUMU WALUBARA YIDINDJI: It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white living on Yidindji land, if you want to be part of our life, it is lifestyle choice, it is a real lifestyle choice. …
… We have to create a place for the Yidindji Australian. And, you know what? There’s about 156,000 Yidindji Australians live in Geemoy (phonetic spelling). You either got to be Yidindji or you got to be Australian. Or, there may be an opportunity to have dual citizenship. …
… It’s a hard life, but at the end of the day it’s about feeling what is the truth, living the truth.
KERRY BREWSTER: Are you going to renounce your citizenship of Australia?
BEATRICE DODD PRYOR, YIDINDJI WOMAN: Absolutely, absolutely, yeah. I’m very keen on that. … It means everything to me. It connects with my identity. You know, my culture, my land, my people.
KERRY BREWSTER: But Queensland’s education system isn’t about to recognise Yidindji identification. Without an Australian birth certificate, Murrumu has been unable to enrol little Jeremy into kindergarten.
MURRUMU WALUBARA YIDINDJI: We’ve approached a number of schools. We’ve also offered to provide a tribal birth certificate, but they’ve said they can’t accept that.
KERRY BREWSTER: Murrumu is happy to do the teaching.