News and Information

Long walk to Aborigine freedom
December 3, 2004
By James Grubel

Canberra - For Aborigine Michael Long the blisters on his feet were a small price to pay for putting indigenous issues back onto Australia's political agenda during a meeting with Prime Minister John Howard on Friday.

Long walked about 300km on a spontaneous trek to raise awareness about the large number of Aborigines who die young, often 20 years younger than white Australians.

His trek attracted a small band of followers and nationwide publicity, ending with a meeting with Howard in the conservative leader's parliament house office on Friday.

"I think we all need to go and have a look - this is an Australian problem"
The two men talked for an hour about indigenous health, education, employment, drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence. Long later voiced optimism that indigenous issues were being taken seriously.

Long, who once described Howard as "cold hearted" for refusing to apologise for past injustices against Aborigines, said the meeting was open and honest. He said he was more encouraged by the response from ordinary Australians to his walk.

"I've got a lot of reassurance from the people of Australia," he told reporters. "They probably didn't understand what was happening in their backyard."

His walk coincided with rising tensions between black and white Australians. Aborigines rioted on a remote island a week ago after one man died in a police cell and assault charges were laid on Thursday after accusations an aboriginal boy had been dragged along a river bank with a rope around his neck.

Long had planned to ask Howard to visit indigenous communities, where Aborigines have limited access to health and education services, and where there are high rates of welfare dependency, alcohol abuse and domestic violence.

But he said the problems in remote communities were for all Australians to help solve.

"I think we all need to go and have a look. This is an Australian problem, not just the prime minister's problem," Long said.

Aboriginal leaders have called for a day of action on December 11 after a riot on Palm Island off tropical Queensland state's northeast coast last Friday sparked by the release of an autopsy report that showed 36-year-old Aborigine Cameron Doomadgee had died in a police cell from a ruptured liver on November 19.

Aborigines in inner Sydney's Redfern rioted in February after the death of an Aboriginal boy who fell from his bicycle and was impaled on a fence. Aborigines mistakenly believed the boy was being chased by police.

Officials have also called for calm in the Queensland town of Goondiwindi after two farm workers were charged on Thursday with assault on an Aboriginal boy said to have had a rope tied around his neck after he was caught during an attempted break-in.

Howard's government has a strained relationship with Aborigines and has recently scrapped the key elected indigenous body the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, replacing it with an appointed advisory panel.

The government has targeted practical measures to address health, housing and education but has refused to budge on issues such as apologies for historic injustices or wider recognition of land rights.

A spokesperson for Howard said Friday's meeting with Long covered a lot of common ground and agreed upon the need to tackle problems in local Aboriginal communities.

"It was very worthwhile," the spokesperson said.

Asked if he had achieved anything from his walk, Long said: "That's up to the Australian public and prime minister."

"I got sore feet."


    Support Caprivi Freedom
Fill out the form below to become a member of this site and receive our regular newsletter.

First Name
Last Name