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Change sweeps The Block

THE inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States might have seemed a world away for some of us, but for Redfern’s indigenous community, the winds of change were blowing close to home writes Robert Burton-Bradley in Central of 28 January 2009.

At an Inauguration Day celebration on Wednesday last week, locals gathered outside the Redfern Community Centre at The Block to contemplate what a black man leading the free world might mean to them.

“The fact Barack Obama has been elected has had the most profound impact and effect on indigenous people,” Aunty Selena Blakeney said.

“One media outlet I called to invite here said, ‘Oh no, that’s an American issue’, and I said, ‘That’s a white attitude’.

“There was the apology [to the Stolen Generation, which came soon after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was elected], and now this. Even the different nationalities and people coming to places like The Block for events like this, it’s really feeling like change. It’s just the colour of your skin.”

The fact that Mr Obama’s inauguration occurred just four days before Australia Day, a day that reminds many Aboriginal people of the crimes perpetrated against their people, made the celebration even more significant for some.

“Australia Day has a totally different meaning for indigenous people,” Lyle Munroe said.

“It’s invasion day for us and we only celebrate that we have survived.”

Redfern’s Binowee Bayles, 23, agreed that Australia Day was about remembering the survival of Aboriginal people.

But she said it was time for indigenous Australians to let go of some of the “bitterness” of the past.

“It is a day of commemoration of the genocide, the hypocrisy, but whether educated or not, it’s important for Aboriginal people to stand up,” Ms Bayles said. “You can’t have a victim mentality forever.”

To mark Australia Day, Ms Bayles organised a “Flash Mob” event at Central station.

The idea was to organise a large group of people to descend on a public space and then freeze for five minutes to make a statement or convey a message.

“I’m hoping a lot for indigenous people get involved with this,” Ms Bayles said. “It’s a way of making us feel like we can make a statement or break old perceptions and challenge a few people.”

Photos: Phil Rogers, Reuters - Redfern's Aboriginal community are moving away from the Invasion Day protests like this, in 2005 Source: