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Swan Valley Nyoongar community returns to Lockridge camp

PerthNow May 19, 2012

Swan Valley Nyoongars say that they have reclaimed the controversial Lockridge community camp by setting up a tent embassy and have vowed to fight to stay.

The community has been at the campsite since Thursday, when neighbours say they scaled the fences to gain entry.

The Gallop government closed the campsite in 2003 amid allegations of widespread sexual abuse.

Photo: Greg Martin from the Nyoongar Tent Embassy pours sand into the hand of Herbert Bropho symbolising the giving back of their land. (Picture: Daniel Wilkins Source: PerthNow)

Swan Valley Nyungah Community spokesman Herbert Bropho said he would resist any police attempt to remove them from the site.

"If the police come I'll stand my ground," he said.

Passing motorists have been shouting abuse outside the site.

"I don't care what they say, it doesn't bother me," Mr Bropho said.

"I just wonder if they go home and swear at their wives like that.

"Other people are alright but you get these stupid idiots going past.

"They need to be educated."

Tent Embassy Ambassador Greg Martin presented Mr Bropho with a Sovereignty Pack at the campsite today.

"The pack contains the Pacific Islanders Act of 1872 and 1875, in which the Crown of England and Queen Victoria mentions that she does not have jurisdiction of Aboriginal people within the Swan River Colony," Mr Martin said.

Elder Bella Bropho said her family are reclaiming their rightful land.

"Our family is slowly taking back our Lockridge home that was wrongfully taken from us. We are here to make a point that it is still our land," Ms Bropho said.

"This is our home we want it returned back to us.”

Photo: Herbert Bropho and the Swan Valley Nyoongar community have moved back into the Lockridge Camp. (Picture: Daniel Wilkins Source: PerthNow)

The Swan Valley tent embassy comes after a protracted protest by the group on Heirisson Island since mid-February.

The camp was set up in opposition to the State Government's proposed $1 billion native title deal with the South West Aboriginal Sea and Land Council that would cover all Noongar people in the region.

"We need the general community to understand how badly we were, and are still being, treated," she said.

"Since being forced out of our home, many members of our community are now without shelter, many of our family have died on the streets and our children are suffering. We need everyone to support us to get our home back."

History

Archaeological evidence suggests that the area has been inhabited for at least 38,000 years. From the 1830s until the 1940s the land was owned by the Hammersley family, which allowed Aboriginal people to remain on their traditional campsite. In 1941 a group of Swan Valley Nyungah women purchased 20 acres (8.1 ha) of bushland bounded by Gallagher Street and Mary Crescent, Eden Hill. The local council refused their requests for water and applications to build housing so they camped in mia mias, bush breaks and tin camps and relied on water dug from their own wells. In the 1950s the area was resumed by the State Housing Commission for the creation of the suburb of Eden Hill.

In 1977 several groups decided to make a stand at the Lockridge Campsite and in 1981 the people incorporated themselves as Fringedwellers of the Swan Valley Inc. The Fringedwellers began a series of protests asking the government to assist them with housing. During the 1980s the improvised huts and tents were replaced with government-supplied mining cabins.

On 19 July 1994 the Lockridge Campsite became the Swan Valley Nyungah Community when governor- general Michael Jeffery, "by virtue of the provisions of Section 33(2) of the Land Act 1933", vested Reserve 43131 (Swan Location 11942) in the Swan Valley Nyungah Community Aboriginal Corporation for the designated purpose of "use and benefit of Aboriginal Inhabitants".) With federal-government funding, community members designed their own culturally appropriate and environmentally sensitive housing.

The community started its own school which taught Indigenous content and had a good attendance record. The camp also had a good relationship with local police.

In controversial circumstances, the Government of Western Australia closed the settlement in 2003 by act of Parliament following allegations of widespread sexual abuse, rape and substance abuse, after a 15-year-old girl, Susan Taylor, committed suicide in 1999.

The suicide was the subject of a coronial inquest, followed by the 2001 Gordon Inquiry into claims of family violence and child abuse in Western Australian Aboriginal communities. This led to the formation of a parliamentary select committee which reported on matters surrounding the Community and its closure.

On 6 June 2008, Bella Bropho, on behalf of the Community, lost an appeal to the Federal Court on the grounds that their eviction and loss of property was in breach of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. Bella Bropho is currently challenging the decision in the High Court of Australia.

Bropho clan: 'This land is our land'

Eastern Reporter 22nd May 2012

The Bropho clan have fired a broadside at the State Government, opening the gates of the Swan Valley Nyungah Camp (SVNC) and returning to what they consider their home.

The family returned to the Lockridge camp on Thursday night, and say they are determined to stay until their home is returned to them.

Family spokeswoman and Elder Bella Bropho said the family wanted no part of any deal between the State Government and the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council.

“This land is ours, we were wrongfully evicted and now we’ve got people coming out of the woodwork to claim they were here before us,” she said.

“This is our home, we’ve been here since 1977 and we want it handed back to us.”

The SVNC was closed and its occupants, largely members of the Bropho clan, evicted following a parliamentary inquiry in 2003, and Ms Bropho said that many occupants of the camp were still homeless to this day. She said the family wanted their community.

“We want to make sure we send a clear message that our community is not for sale, it belongs to our family and we were the ones that suffered.

“We’ll stay here as long as we need to get that message across, but I would say we will be here for at least two weeks.”

A representative for the Western Australian Planning Commission confirmed the former Swan Valley Nyungar Camp is a crown reserve that has a management order issued to the Western Australian Planning Commission.

The Eastern Reporter understands that representatives of the WAPC met with WA Police on Friday morning to discuss the actions of the Bropho family, and that if the WAPC laid a complaint with police over the actions of the family, police would be compelled to act.

A police source confirmed that while the chain on the gate at the front of the camp had been cut to allow access, there had been no trouble at the camp over the weekend.