Some people, according to Jeanette Crew, a notable Wamba Wamba elder who is known to locals as Aunty Jenny, feel “safer to come out and express their racial attitudes” because of the misinformation that the voice argument has stirred up.
Dozens of cars drive by a homemade “vote no” sign that has been tacked to a post on the side of the road near the center of Deniliquin. This sign is just one of many that have begun to appear in the New South Wales town as the referendum on the Indigenous voice to parliament draws closer.
In the month of June, she and her husband, David, were sent racist hate mail at their house. The letter contained photographs of the pair cut out from the local newspaper. It seemed to be a reaction to the fact that they had participated in National Reconciliation Week. The pictures included offensive personal comments and racial epithets attached to them.
This was the Crews’ second letter of this kind in the previous year, and it was addressed to them. In addition, there have been in-person visits and phone calls made to the Yarkuwa Indigenous Knowledge Centre, which is chaired by Jenny and is managed by David in his capacity as general manager. All of the events have been reported to the Deniliquin police station, where the authorities are currently conducting an investigation.
“When you have these types of conversations, these inflammatory words, it makes people feel threatened, and it doesn’t go away,” says David. “It doesn’t matter how much you try to ignore it.”
According to her, “We’d constantly be fighting in the playground, being made fun of, and kids being surprised that I actually had red blood” are all things that happened on a regular basis. “Because the kids who we played with in the playground had this idea that we had ‘black blood,'” you might say.
After more than sixty years have passed, she is concerned that incidents of racism similar to those that occurred in the past may be reoccurring in the local schools as a direct result of the toxic environment created by the referendum.
She believes that our younger children are truly unaware of the fact that they may end up becoming the victims of something that they are unable to comprehend. “And that’s not fair in any way, shape, or form,” the speaker continued.
In June, David gave an interview to the Deniliquin Pastoral Times in which he discussed the hate mail. He claims that since that time, Yarkuwa has received reports about “serious misinformation” regarding the voice that has been propagated both online and in the community nearby.
“A consultant came to me and said that she’d been hearing so much [misinformation] when she was out talking to people about the water history of the Forest Creek, and the voice came up,” he recalls. “She was out talking to people about the water history of the Forest Creek, and the voice came up.” “After that, they told us that the voice would make all of the decisions instead of us. They are concerned that this may result in their land being taken away from them.
“This was the same fear when the native title legislation was passed in the 1990s and the NSW land rights legislation was passed in the 1980s, but to no one’s surprise, no land was taken from anyone.”
He remembers the animosity that was shown toward the Aboriginal Land Rights Act by non-Indigenous people in 1983 when it first went into effect. These locals feared that the Act would result in them “losing their back yards.”
He claims that if you go on Twitter or Facebook, you will find a great deal of misleading information there. “If that’s where you’re going to get your information, you’re going to get so much misinformation, so come and talk to us locally,” the message read. “Come and talk to us locally.”
Jenny maintains that it is challenging to sort through all of that misinformation.
She claims that the voice poses no danger to anyone and that it is completely harmless. “It’ll just help our voices to be heard,” we said, “to give the benefit not only to Aboriginal people but also to our local economy and our own local society.”
Perin Davey, who is based in Deniliquin and is a senator for the National Party, does not support a yes vote. She argues that “enshrining a representative agency that will and can only represent one cohort of our community” is not the appropriate method for bridging the divide, but she believes that the discussion needs to be civilized.
Davey urges, “Racism should never be accepted, and I beg everyone to be respectful in their debates about this vital matter,” and he says the following: ”
According to her, there have been attacks on persons “on both sides” of the debate around the vote.
“Just as we have seen the absolutely reprehensible attacks on David and Jeanette Crew, whom I have the utmost respect for and who only want the best for their community, I have also seen vile attacks on people like my colleague and friend Jacinta Nampijinpa Price,” he said. “Just as we have seen the absolutely reprehensible attacks on David and Jeanette Crew, whom I have the utmost respect for and who only want the best for their community,”
She is of the opinion that the people of the First Nations will suffer greatly if the outcome of the referendum is a negative one. It will feel to her like she has been turned away.
“A no vote would actually cause us to become even more polarized, and I, for one, would come to feel like an outsider in my own country,” she says.
Things are only going to get worse if there is a vote to reject the proposal. It is just one more item that will eventually become a part of the generational pain that has not been healed.
“I really dread getting a no vote.”