Domain campers face deadline

By Ben Doherty
April 10, 2006

Lord Mayor John So meets Robert Corowa at Camp Sovereignty. Cr So's efforts to organise a meeting to discuss the protest have failed.
Photo: Julian Polman

PROTESTERS at the Aboriginal camp in the Kings Domain have been given less than 24 hours notice to leave or face prosecution.

In what looms as a showdown over the Aboriginal rights protest, camp spokesman Robbie Thorpe has threatened a peak-hour city protest if protesters were forcibly removed.

Lord Mayor John So has visited the camp twice in the past three days, trying to broker a deal with the protesters, who have lived at the site dubbed Camp Sovereignty since early last month. But the campers are unwilling to talk, with Mr Thorpe saying authorities had already decided to move them on.

The makeshift camp was set up as a protest against what the activists called the "StolenWealth Games" the Commonwealth Games. The State Government and City of Melbourne say there was an agreement that it would close on March 26.

A number of the original protesters from Black GST (Genocide, Sovereignty, Treaty) left, but some have remained.

The Age last night obtained a copy of the City of Melbourne order, signed by park ranger co-ordinator Glenn MacColl. It instructs the "owners and occupiers of tents, vehicles, caravans and equipment located on Crown land known as Kings Domain" to leave by 4pm today.

"If you are served with this notice, you must comply with the directions or you may be prosecuted for an offence against the activities local law," the order states.

Cr So visited Camp Sovereignty on Friday, telling protesters they would not be removed. He returned yesterday, accompanied by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Gavin Jennings, to try to set up a meeting between the council, the State Government, protesters and the traditional owners of the Kulin nation.

"I believe we can build on the good relationship between the city and local Aboriginal people through ongoing collaboration with the traditional owners of the Kulin nation," Cr So said. "The City of Melbourne is ready and willing to discuss with traditional owners further ways to recognise the cultural significance of the Kings Domain site, once the site has been vacated."

But he stressed that the camp broke council by-laws and must go. Mr Thorpe said protesters would not meet authorities.

"We don't need permission from the council or from the State Government to practise our religion on our country," he said.

"This is Aboriginal land. This is an Aboriginal site. Their laws have no jurisdiction here."

Mr Thorpe said no decision had been made on whether protesters would leave by today's deadline. But any forced removal would spark a city protest. He said he planned to have protesters mass on the corner of Collins and Swanston streets at 6pm to highlight their cause.

Mr Thorpe accused Mr Jennings of "hiding" behind the council. He said the minister should protect the camp.

Mr Jennings was unavailable for comment yesterday.