This article is part of a series on land back. Questions and answers may have been edited for length and clarity.
Gamilaraay Next Generation (GNG) is a collective of Gomeroi/Gamilaroi/Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay young people fighting for their Country and people for generations to come. They are campaigning to defend Country against agricultural and mining interests. Their work is grounded in land back.
Boe Spearim is a Gamilaraay and Kooma man and member of GNG. Boe is also the creator and host of a podcast called Frontier War Stories. The podcast is dedicated to truth-telling about a side of Australian history that has been left out of the history books. We yarned with him about land back and sovereignty.
Boe Spearim: When we talk about land back, we’ve got to talk about connection and reconnection. And we’ve got to talk about relationships. Not just with Country, but with other Blackfullas as well. Land back is so much more than what we think. It’s not just a phrase. It’s an action.
It’s also about disconnection and invasion – and the importance of understanding the role that Australia plays in occupying Country. And in particular, what role New South Wales and Queensland play in occupying Gomeroi Country.
Land back encompasses historical relationships of dispossession and invasion. It also encompasses connection, reconnection, Country, relationships – things that are integral to us as Blackfullas. It’s a strong statement, and it speaks to the core of what has happened and what needs to happen in this country. I don’t think any local, state or federal governments in this country are brave enough to acknowledge their role and move forward with land back.
BS: Gamilaraay Next Generation is a group of young Gamilaraay/Gomeroi people who have come together collectively to understand the importance of Country and how to defend it through the channels that we have and know best. I do radio and podcasting, and others have strengths in other avenues.
We’ve come together as young Gomeroi people, but also as people who are good at what they do. Once we normalise our resistance, we can apply what we’re good at to better the movement towards protecting Country.
BS: GNG and other Gomeroi people who have been defending Country for the past 10, 15, 20 years – we’ve been fulfilling our role in terms of fighting for land back. One key way we do this is by amplifying what’s been happening on Country. Santos is just one of three to five mining companies that are on Gomeroi Country – that may be active, in approval stages or have just been plucked.
We’re fighting against mining companies, but there’s also so much destruction outside of mining happening on Gomeroi Country. Whether it’s development for housing or for infrastructure – there’s a massive train line that’s gone through Gomeroi Country through some sacred sites. And farming and pastoralists, who you could argue have done more damage to Country than any mining company.
BS: With land back, we have to understand the kind of relationships that we do have. I know some Gomeroi mob have links and have relationships with farmers, which is an amazing step in itself in understanding land back. Because land back is about finding allies and allyship as well. We need to see what non-Indigenous people and non-Gomeroi people can do for Gomeroi Country.
Still, it’s important to remember that there’s two different ways: when we say “this is our land,” and then when a whitefella says “this is my land.” We need to understand what land is to them, and what land is to us. Land is commodity to them – to gain and to create wealth. But to us, it’s so different and it’s so much more.
Our existence echoes. When we say “this land is ours” and “we belong to this land,” or “I am Gamilaraay and this is Gamilaraay Country.” It means so much more than somebody saying, I’ve been here for four generations.
BS: We’ve got to understand how people have gotten land in this country. As early as the 1830s, just after the Bathurst wars in the mid to late 1820s, pastoralists were already up on Gomeroi Country surveying and finding land. There have been so many massive incidents on Gomeroi Country in the earlier Frontier and invasion period.
How these individuals have acquired that land is where the discussion of land back needs to come back to. It’s important to have these conversations with these farmers and find some common ground.
What’s happening now – with some farmers reaching out to Blackfullas and Gomeroi fellas – this is the first time that Blackfullas have had access back to Country without sneaking on or fighting and arguing with the pastoralists and landowners.
It’s understanding those two different things and the roles they play. And trying to understand how we can get access and land back, and also create allyship that will eventually get rid of mining and any other form of destruction to Country. But also having these hard conversations with pastoralists about us reoccupying and reclaiming.
BS: I think land back comes in many forms. I think it begins on a local level. By reoccupying Country through whatever means we can. By having these dialogues with so-called landowners and farmers.
With sovereignty, if you ask ten different people what it means to them, you’ll get ten different answers. To me, sovereignty is my birthright to participate in and to understand. My personal belief is that no one can take your sovereignty away from you. It’s how you live your life and reconnect and go back.
I think land back is just a process in which we need to enact sovereignty on Country. They’re linked.
Even though the phrase “land back” is relatively new here, we’ve always been saying “we want our land back,” or “we’re going to get our land back.” So we’ve always participated in land back and actioned it in many different forms. And through doing that, we enact our sovereignty.
BS: Through the process of land back, we enact our sovereignty. And through our acts of sovereignty, we have actively been engaged in land back. Even before the phrase reached our shores.
Before “decolonisation,” “sovereignty” and “land back” – or whatever seems to be the flavour of the month in terms of phrases that resonate with and uplift our mob – we’ve always been enacting those things. Land back just seems to be the phrase that best describes, or that we most gravitate towards, but really you can call it whatever you want.
As early as 1788 when the First Fleet landed, and we were engaging in Frontier conflicts – that was an act of land back. Land defence. We’ve always been fighting for land back.