In this episode Lidia yarns with Arabunna Elder and long time environmental campaigner Uncle Kev Buzzacott about what caring for Country actually means and the importance of First Nations led solutions.
Uncle Kev Buzzacott is an Elder from the Arabunna Nation and long time campaigner for First Nations justice and land rights. Uncle Kev has been a leader in the campaigns against uranium mining and for a nuclear free Australia.
LEARN: Read Sand Talk: How Indigenous thinking can save the world by Tyson Yunkaporta.
TAKE ACTION: Add your name to support the Greens’ plan for caring for Country and protecting sacred sites.
DONATE: SEED is Australia’s first Indigenous youth climate network building a movement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people for climate justice with the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. Their vision is for a just and sustainable future with strong cultures and communities, powered by renewable energy. https://www.seedmob.org.au/donate
The Greens plan for Caring for Country:
Before we can move forward, before we can heal, we must tell the truth. This is truth telling, with me Lidia Thorpe. I'm a proud Djab Wurrung, Gunnai Gunditjmara woman. I'm a human rights, climate and forest activist, a mum, a grand-mum and a survivor of family violence. Now, I'm your Greens Senator for Victoria. This is a place to listen, stay open and learn, as I yarn with First Nations Elders, experts and activists about the injustices facing our people and importantly, the solutions and opportunities that can come from self determination through the right policy. Self Determination is Aboriginal people deciding our own future, our own destiny.
You just heard a song from the deadly Djirri Djirri, Wurundjeri women who dance and sing on Country for Country. This interview and all interviews will take place on Wurundjeri Country, the unceded sovereign lands of Wurundjeri and the Kulin Nation.
This podcast was recorded remotely due to COVID restrictions, I hope you enjoy.
I'm gonna just start by introducing an absolute, legend of our fight and our struggle. Someone who I've looked up to all my life, and that my family have looked up to in their fight. And that's the one and only Uncle Kevin Buzzacott. Who is a Arabunna Nation Elder, and longtime campaigner for Blak justice and land rights. Uncle Kev, has been a leader in the campaign against particularly uranium mining, and for a nuclear free Australia. He's dedicated his whole life to protecting not only Country, but our people as a whole. So I just want to say that I'm absolutely honored and privileged to have Uncle Kev be part of this first podcast, and particularly, the topic around caring for Country. We all talk about caring for Country, but if we don't take on the very essence of what that actually means from someone like Uncle Kev, then we're heading in the wrong direction. So Uncle Kev, thank you so much for having a yarn with me as we do normally. But this one's going to be recorded. And this one's going to be open to everybody. So let's just have a yarn. But I just wanted to start with you first.
Uncle Kev 3:22
Yes, it's been a long journey. Not only me, but all of us campaigners, our people out there and old people since I've started. But a lot of our people have gone, passed, since I started. And we're carrying on part of their work as well. And we've all learned from the best our people way back before us, that hit the streets and got out there -- waving the colors and the fines and everything. Fighting for justice and fighting for our Country. And we're still doing it. And no it's good. It's also an honor and a privilege to talk with you. And you're pretty good yourself with all your work you're doing.
thank you Unc. And I'm only guided by the best hey. So Thank you.
Uncle Kev 4:18
Your family is the best.
So, Uncle Kev, I have to ask when people say caring for Country, can you tell me what that actually means from your perspective?
Uncle Kev 4:31
I don’t know whether I was lucky or unlucky, some time I think, different ways where my I was raised up with our people out in the desert there. We had our mob came the one hundred years--a hundred years later than they did the attack the East Coast because we were spared by the desert I guess. And that the CIT (?) did make up when I got there. but our people out there, I think it would have been all our people back The they put the Country before them could look after the whole Country. They knew that they knew that they could harm the whole Country and this happened not for a while this happened for the last 40 thousand years but if they dug the Country up, they knew that repercussion would be great and and it's a lifetime thing you did this for a one generation then yeah you're on to the next generation and advance on a long term what for 40 thousand years plus. We couldn't make brick and build brick buldings and use our Country for that because we loved it that much and we knew what it would do. And until these other mob came along. You spent a lifetime one lifetime caring for the land and it was more like a pleasure you and your families were there you camped there and went around you went to this water hole, you went to that place you checked on everything. You knew what, you knew every pebble, you knew every grain of sand in your area. You knew what was missing and where it went you've tracked it and what not until this other mob arrived and then well now I think you need three or four life times to keep up with these fellas to keep an eye on these mob because they're out there digging everything up they--they don't fully understand us. Maybe they do maybe they don't it's all about ripping up your land getting what they can out of it and and they make you feel like you're the victim, you're the bad guy because you're not obeying their policies or their law and this is what's going on there with my people with native title and also with land councils. They are coming down with their policies and getting you to sign it so that they can go ahead with their development. Now this is the hard thing for us for a black person to sign away their sacred site like a mountain or a lake or a river to be destroyed before you and that they will dangle a carrot for you.
What's a carrot? Uncle Kev what's dangling the carrot mean for people out there who don't understand what it's like for Traditional Owners
Uncle Kev 7:38
It's the money. Yeah, it's the money they come along with the cash and they offer it to you. You don't get it unless you sign the agreement. And once you sign the agreement say they might be looking for gold. And then once they get their foot in the door, everything goes. We got fracking, we got uranium, all those other minerals and then after they do all the mess they want to come back and dump waste on you. That's why our beautiful area is pretty well toxic at the moment. And it's going to take another lifetime to clear all that up. If we're gonna clear it up, if these guys are gonna stop destroying it. And of course they've got the police force, they've got the prime minister, the premiers, the policemen and everybody to make sure that you know. If you don't sign the agreement-- if one mob is signing the agreement and another mob is saying no, when all the cash the money is gone, what are what are you gonna come back to? Cause now mob is spending money like it's going out of fashion the more they get the more they want so on and then they got to come back to big oil in the ground or pretty toxic place. This is what they're gonna leave is what we can all leave for our kids. Our kids are gonna hate us down the track for not saving the beautiful land for them there's gonna be all this toxic and all the sickness around and loss of culture lost of nature-- all that stuff and it's very hard -- it's very hard up and up hill battle all that. What’s sort of surfacing in me now is that we are entering this era where it's pretty critical, it's like we're coming to the peak of this whole issue, something's gonna give and some of us know that we're gonna get through this okay we're gonna be the successor if that's way of saying it because we have the Country, we have the whole people, we have the spirit, we have it all there is to power the we have that they have the people can't see. And at the same time we try to make peace with them to come there and sit have a yarn with us and they put us into this -- Some of my mob -- Well I do blame them. But sometimes you can't blame them because they’ve got families. They’ve been put in that situation where they're homeless. They’ve got no cars none of this none of that -- no food, so somebody comes along with the carrot. They’re grab it -- well my mob do anyhow. And then I've got to argue with them as well and say, Hey, you know, be better off a starving, or go back hunting, well, we can't go back out because the other land has been taken up by the squatters. So we can't go to certain places. And we don't know what they are doing with our sacred, sacred stuff. We get charged for trespassing, and end up in jail and end up with the big fines and all that sort of stuff.
So Uncle Kev, what do you think the government should be doing to address the continued destruction of Country, like what should they be doing? If you could tell the government to do two things about the protection of all the things that you spoke about? What would you say to them?
Uncle Kev 11:29
I think the first thing -- what I see they haven't done is they haven't come down and sat down with us. I think everything starts with a sitting down or some sort of meeting, a gathering, where we sit down then we say, hey look this is what we're on about. And because we've cared for the land for so long, and then I think there's a lot of fear there as well. Because what had happened when they first came, a lot of people are scared of them because they've got the guns, they've got the jail, they've got all that stuff. I think the first step is to come down, sit down with us, or do some, I don't know how long these people are gonna be here for. Some of us have been telling them to go and what not - the the bad guys can go, the good guys should stay and I think we can get more -- get somewhere with the good guys than the bad guys. A lot of the good guys are with us and we're gotta talk about it then we make this planning workshop type of thing. Get back to that butcher's paper or whiteboard on the blackboard or whatever, start putting up your point.
Don't you think that we've done enough of that though? You know in all your time, and my time. How many times you want to write on the butchers paper and tell them...
Uncle Kev 12:55
Ah nah nah. you are right but it still can't get through. So well what else you do? I mean, if you rally and march, oh, this is the thing I'm thinking about now, next year is gonna be the big year for them to see -- should be whatever there is the spirit, this movement is happening, everybody can feel it now that there's just things stirring, something's gonna happen. It's gonna happen whether we like it or not, because our Country and our spirits have had enough. So it's gonna kick back with or without us. This is why you see these earthquakes, dust storms, floods, fires, everything. They're not natural disasters, they are man made because they are tampering with the elements and the elements are sick of it. And I don't know - do a call out for the mob to hit the streets and then yell at the cops. I see the big rally in Melbourne there the other week that the cops and everybody they're arresting people, whatnot. I don't know how that works.
Uncle Kev -- do you think that the government can just put in some heritage laws and laws that protect our land and culture and allow free prior informed consent for our people to decide on what happens on Country.
Uncle Kevin 14:34
I think some of that stuff might be in ties now with nattive title and land councils and some other heritage places. But it's still got mining at the end of the day. They've gotta go for that mighty dollar. So how, whether, I think it's getting to the point where do you want mining? Or you want your Country? Or you want a free beautiful paradise Country or you want a toxic Country. You want to run your own life or how you do it? Because we haven't ran our life now for over 200 years.
What do you think about the Indigenous protected areas? And the ranges program?
Uncle Kevin 15:19
We've got ranges on our places, but these ranges they're, they're sorta young fellas. They don't know the land, so, they-- they did it all without us old people knowing.
Uncle Kevin 15:38
I think it's a control thing. So we go to our meetings and we're just about killing each other. Blood family are arguing with each other and they're going away with a funny feeling. They're not talking to each other. They having a sorry, time when someone passes. You can't go to their funeral, they can't come to our funeral. It's really, it's not good. And it's because the divide and rule stuff. And I think that's all the government knows. And I'm always hoping that people, I mean, you and others are doing a good job. They're trying to you know, get the message through and whatnot. But at the end of the day, they seem to be, they still want that control.
How would it? How would it be better? If we could say to the government, this is how we want it run, would you still think the Ranger program is a good idea, and those indigenous protected areas, do you think if they were governed by Clans and Nations, for example, or Elders, do you think that could be a better way forward rather than how it operates today?
Uncle Kevin 17:01
It would be a better way forward, because you're putting the responsibility back with the rightful people. You don't get these rent a crowd from somewhere else and say, Hello, these mob are gonna run your Country, you got to put it back where the responsibility back where belongs with the people from that land, who knows that land. And that would have been, that would be a big start, a good start. But whether this can happen, down the track, I couldn't tell you.
So then, in terms of the Ranger program, if the Ranger program was governed by the mob whose land it is, rather than a government program, or however else, the ranger of program currently exists?If -- If you saw if you had an open checkbook and an open decision making process? Would you still like to see that Ranger program happening? And how would you like to see it happening?
Uncle Kevin 18:10
See, we did that before. But this is really what do they call it -- reinventing the wheel. That's what we did for a lifetime. We had warriors, we had people out there that were checking on the land day and night. They knew what was coming, what was going, and who was there and that try to why that wouldn't let it breathe for 200 years. And that family was still one big family, happy family. But this otherwise divide rule stuff. That's not working. That's never gonna work.
Tell me what to do. And I will do my best to make it happen. But how do you think we can go forward in ensuring that we protect Country and also educating the government on how to do that and trying to force the government's hand on supporting self determination on how we think it will work best?
Uncle Kevin 19:08
I think we're gonna let all our old fellas out there. Say right you mob. What are we going to do? Have a gathering. We can do it like this. We can zoom people on screen. And we can talk to the mob over there and say, Look, we got to get out of this mess we in, now they follow us not going to get us out of this mess because they haven’t got a clue about us. They haven't got a clue about our Country. They just want to destroy so let's educate them or re educate them and say, This is what's gonna go out the door. We need a 10 year, five year corporate plan, how are we gonna do it? How we gonna live together and walk together and be friends instead of this all this racist bullshit and what not. I think that's what you got to do, I think we got to pull out people together. And then we have a meeting, bring the government in they could sit there and listen to us and then from there we can go to we can live in this new way whatever the way you call it
So I'm just gonna try and simplify that for in how I -- well not simplify it but give you my interpretation of what you've just said Uncle Kev and that is if you had an opportunity would you say to government that it has to be up to the old people and the Clans and the Nations and the Tribes however people identify as people from that particular Country then they should be able to decide on what rangers and what protected areas and what is relevant to their Country
Uncle Kevin 21:01
Yeah, I think that you're on to it. See We -- we can do this -- once us mob all get together we can pull each other up say: “nah that's not right but”. there is a structure or a policy in our team before the government came here, our own government where you pull people up. We can't have you logging forest. Or you up there doing uranium mine. and someone else's is doing fracking and cotton over there. We got to work out how, that’s our role, we can pull people like, say we're gonna get rid of the border stop that divides people. WA, Victoria all this stuff. We are all one people and I don't know I might be missing something...
Well let me put it another way as well suppose like the reason for these podcasts, Uncle Kev, is for the general population to have an understanding of what Country means to us what it means to be on Country and how we're trying to protect it and the difference between how we protect it and how the government is trying to protect it or not. But maybe if you could just briefly explain what what does it actually mean to be on Country
Uncle Kevin 22:25
Oh it’s a... it's a medicine isn’t it! It's like when you’re sick you go into hospital and they give you all this stuff. Out in the Country is different and so it's pretty hard in my Country now because we’ve got all this uranium waste sitting on the ground. A lot of people are getting sick, a lot of people have died and it's gonna go on and on until we clear it up.
My education’s pretty poor but I'm glad people like you have got it. We got a lot of people like you, we've got young ones out there. We got lawyers, doctors and all sorts of people out there now. We can get them. We gotta ban football and ban sport because all of them are playing football and it's only us old bastards dragging our butts around (laughs) -- I can't say that but you know what I mean. it's Country as well that's where we exist from we come from there.
Do you separate yourself from Country
Uncle Kevin 23:30
I never left my Country, but then again, I can go anywehre, I’ve got a home all around this Country. I can go this way that way. I can go camp over there. It's not a -- I think I love my Country more now because it's getting pounded. It's getting grounded pounded, kicked in the guts. The burial grounds are being dug up. Ceremony grounds being dug up. All animals are getting slaughtered. It just goes on.
What does that mean to you, Uncle? How does it make you feel?
Uncle Kevin 24:09
It just rips you up. Guts ya -- guts ya. And then you got to think what do you do and you get to do the anger come in you want to kill you want to do this and that, but that's not our way. Our way is doing this talking, spreading that spirit, the love and all that and trying to educate, re-educate people about what they’re doing to this whole land. And it’s the only one we got so we don't like I said if we don't look after it well I wouldn't want to be around when the kids grow up or maybe they've might become miners too.. but ah the good ones that have nowhere to go. They're gonna hate us. Ah they're gonna hate us.
There'll be a lot of white fellas probably listening to this podcast. And I know that some of the concerns that non Aboriginal people have around the Country is that we're just gonna lock all the Country up and not let anybody access it. And we're just gonna try and protect it and keep it all for ourselves. What do you-- what do you say to that?
Uncle Kevin 25:16
Well see, these fellas are here to stay. I think they've got a war on us and probably murder us or gather the guns if we don't come good. I think if we were clever, hang on here, to make war, anybody can make war. I can go next door and into those mob. But to make peace, you got to be brilliant. This is where you need everything up here, I'm not gonna call you a white bastard anymore. I don't want you to call me a black bastard anymore. We're brothers now, we're aunties, sisters, whatever. Let's do it that way so that the kids can, we can guide the kids and show the direction where we go. I think us old people, we know the way home. We know the way home. And Uncle Robin, we've been talking about this for years and those other old people. And we just haven't been given the chance. And sometimes we get a bit taken too and we go piss off you white bastard. We go, we've got to bring him in. We got to bring them in, if we can bring all the good ones in first, then the others will have to follow or they'll crumble.
There's a lot of good ones out there, hey, that want to protect Country as much as we do. And I think that that's a really good way to end this podcast and invite everybody to join with us in solidarity and stand with Uncle Kev, particularly, to continue to care and protect our Country and preserve it so that not just our kids can benefit but all of our children can benefit.
Uncle Kevin 27:08
See the danger with our Country, some of our Country, the whole Country up there. But I'm talking about other couple of Country; mum's Country and dad's Country, and they are very powerful Country and same with all our Country, right? Very powerful Country, that energy can come back and come back to bite you, the karma. And you know, once we are happy the whole Country's happy. When we're in pain, our Country's in pain. And if this mob don't stop well with us now what our Country's capable of doing I know, but a lot of us know what it's capable of doing. And we don't want that really, we want that peace that (chefs kiss). Yes, yes that’s the one we want.
and it's the peace that will sustain us or for future generations
Uncle Kevin 28:07
And it costs nothing in that sense.
Uncle Kev thank you so much for your time. I know that you're a busy man and I know that you will continue to fight for Country forever and I want to thank you not only for doing that but for mentoring me since I've known you back in the days of the stolen wealth games. So it's been a journey and i love you and I respect you and I thank you for, for continuing the fight and continuing to, you know, make sure that people like me are on the right track.
Uncle Kevin 28:45
I really don't hate anybody. Black White or any colour when we come I know. I just want them to come and sit down. We can we can get there. And we will
We'll get there.
If you have been inspired by anything you've heard in this podcast, check out the show notes for ways to continue your learning and how you can take action and be part of taking this country forward. This podcast is authorised by me, Senator Thorpe at 4 Treasury Place East Melbourne, Victoria 3001.