The Empire Gets Smacked

by Bogaine Spearim (Kooma/Murrawarri/Gamilaraay).
Printed with permission by the author.  The original article appears in The Black Rising Magazine; ‘A national Aboriginal publication dedicated to informing our people about decolonization and inspiring them to take action in the anti-colonial struggle.’

The 2018 Commonwealth Games is fast approaching, with this on the horizon I want to look at some examples of resistance of our people here and First Nations around the world. Indigenous people have always played a hand in the destruction of arrogant and ignorant sporting events. The Olympics, The FIFA World Cup and the Commonwealth Games are held on stolen land and continue to attempt to destroy the lives of Indigenous people. In this article I will talk about the 1982 Commonwealth Games protest in Brisbane, The 2006 Commonwealth Games protest in Melbourne, The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, The FIFA World Cup and what we have the potential to do on the Gold Coast next year.

The announcement of Brisbane hosting the 1982 Commonwealth Games (formally known as The Empire Games) hit a chord with Aboriginal people because of the conditions we were in. In the eyes of our people, Australia (least of all Brisbane) was not worthy of hosting a cheerful and commemorative event like the Commonwealth Games. Queensland was the last state in so called “Australia” to still have the oppressive Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders Act (also known as The Black Acts). Due to this the state of Queensland held immense power over blackfullas. The condition Aboriginal people were living in was appalling, especially in missions and reserves (not much has changed). It was common to be brutalised by the police force; mob would often be seriously hurt or die because of this brutality. This was before the royal commission into black deaths in custody and was under the reign of racist, former Premier Joh Bjelke-Peterson.

Over the two weeks the Commonwealth games were held in ’82 thousands of Aboriginal people and supporters across so called Australia and the world gathered in Musgrave Park. This gathering was considered illegal at the time as laws and legislation did not permit our people to gather in groups and the Aboriginal flag was prohibited. In the months before the games a committee of blackfullas called Black Unity worked hard strategizing and organising a planned resistance. Protests and rallies were organised all over Brisbane at various arenas where the games were hosted. Aboriginal people snuck into events holding banners and Aboriginal flags, and streets were also shut down in the Brisbane CBD.

In 2006, for the forth time, so called ‘Australia’ hosted the Commonwealth Games, this time in Melbourne. Aboriginal people and supporters protested the games again. This was exactly a year before the Howard government, in a show of power, issued a state of emergency in the Northern Territory temporarily removing the Racial Discrimination Act from the constitution to implement what was known as the Northern Territory Emergency Response (the bastard child of Stronger Futures, a program implemented 10 years later that still exists today).

The organising group launched a concept called The Black GST aiming to get Indigenous rights back on the agenda by calling attention to the issues of genocide (G), sovereignty (S), and treaty (T). The same organising group decided to dub the games “The Stolenwealth Games.” This title shone a light on the wealth the Commonwealth had stolen since occupation; the land, lives and cultural knowledge that were forcibly destroyed at the hands of the British Empire and Australian Government.

Over a course of 3 to 4 months (before, during and after the games) Aboriginal people and supporters occupied Kings Domain in Melbourne CBD calling the occupation ‘Camp Sovereignty’. They burnt the Australian and the British Flag within the Queen and the Royal Families eye sight. I remember my older brother and father leaving to get the bus with staunch Brisbane mob that were headed to Melbourne to participate in the resistance. They had the honour of meeting different Aboriginal people from around the continent that had the same drive they did; to expose and shame Australia in the watchful eye of the world.

When the 2010 Winter Olympics was announced to be held on Turtle Island (so called Canada) in Vancouver, First Nation’s Warrior Societies and non-Indigenous groups began organising. Actions and information sessions were held about why it is important to oppose the Winter Olympics on stolen land. Homelessness groups occupied buildings to raise awareness towards how the city upgrades were effecting Indigenous, low income and homeless people. The Warrior Society stole a massive Olympic flag in response (and to honour) a native elder who passed away after being incarcerated in the lead up to the games for blockading the then proposed highway expansion into Vancouver city. They also organised blockades against the Olympic torch relay and raised awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women.

In 2014 Brazil hosted The FIFA World Cup and like the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Brazil was accused of using the event as a pretext for social cleansing as thousands of Indigenous, low income and homeless people were forced out on the streets. In the lead up to The FIFA World Cup, there was an increase in bus and train fare in some major cities, multiple issues arose regarding infrastructure, education and health care, the cost of living increased and multiple scandals of corruption surfaced regarding embezzlement and over billing in the government. Indigenous people resisted against extreme police forces to protest the land grab in the Amazon, the expansion of mines, damns, army bases and other industrial projects.

The 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast is an opportunity for our people from all corners of the continent to gather in protest once again. Just like in the lead up to the 1982 and 2006 Commonwealth Games with the organising groups; Black Unity and the Black GST, a collective has begun for the 2018 Commonwealth Games called Black Liberation Ally Action Collective (BLAAC). The aim of this collective is to involve as many progressive political groups as possible such as; various Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups, Unions, Socialists and Environmental and Student groups. We have launched an art competition in Issue 7 of The Black Rising called Stolen Land, Stolen Lives, Stolen Wealth. We are also working on a zine called the Empire Gets Smacked aimed to inform and inspire creative action.

Revisiting stories of resilience and resistance of our own people and Indigenous peoples around the world can give us a sense that we’re not alone in the global struggle against oppression and colonisation. Looking at these past examples we can remind ourselves we do have the strength, we do have the unity, we do have a reason to live and that’s what scares the colonisers the most.

This article appeared in our Just Voices magazine (issue 15, 2018) on Decolonisation and Indigenous Solidarity.