‘Community life is very important because it keeps my people out of town and out of the city. In the town and in the city, there’s drugs, alcohol and violence.’ Photograph: Lydia Shaw

Clinton Pryor: It’s a long walk for Indigenous justice. That’s why I’m crossing Australia one step at a time

 ‘Community life is very important because it keeps my people out of town and out of the city. In the town and in the city, there’s drugs, alcohol and violence.’ Photograph: Lydia Shaw

‘Community life is very important because it keeps my people out of town and out of the city. In the town and in the city, there’s drugs, alcohol and violence.’ Photograph: Lydia Shaw

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Clinton Pryor is a proud Wajuk, Balardung, Kija and Yulparitja man from Western Australia.

I started this journey walking from Perth to find the truth and find a new way for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Australia. For the past 50 years our people have been fighting for rights, but it’s like it has just gone down the drain too many times. So, I decided to go for a big massive walk across the country to find the truth of what’s going on. What I’ve seen and experienced this way is that our people are living in developing world conditions.

In some communities there’s no fresh water. Other communities are polluted from mining, and on top of that these companies are hiring people from out in cities and towns to work in these communities, when our local people want jobs as well. What the people want in these communities is to be self-governed. They want to take care of our people themselves.

When I was a young fella, I spent time growing up in the town of Carnarvon and the Mulan community. The thing I still cherish most in life is living in community, out on country, with my mother and my people. My mum was a very happy and lovely lady. She was a person who believed in happiness. Before she passed on, she was teaching me about bush medicines and how to live off the land like our old people. She wanted me to understand the ways of our people and never be ashamed of being part of the Dreamtime.

When I was seven years old I went to live with my dad in Perth. I was 16 when he passed away. It was the hardest part of my life. It was the day my life changed forever.

I remember when I was sitting next to his body in hospital in Armadale, I put my hand on his head and promised him three things: to help my people, look after my family and keep our people’s culture alive.

I’ve had to overcome many hurdles in my life, including illiteracy and a period of homelessness. The hardest thing when I was homeless was not having no money, no home and no one caring for me or asking how I was. It was like no one cared about me, or cared that I was alone. It was during that period of homelessness that I taught myself to read.

In 2015, the Western Australian premier, Colin Barnett, announced that he intended to close 150 “remote” Aboriginal communities. People were saying that power and water would be shut off, forcing these communities to leave their own lands. Mulan community was one of those and I knew I had to do something.

We can’t afford to let government shut our communities down. Community life is very important because it keeps my people out of town and out of the city. In the town and in the city, there’s drugs, alcohol and violence. Community life is under control by the Elder in the old traditional way, by our own law we been living off for 60,000 years. Our law keeps our people in line.

After Barnett made the announcement, a homeless First Nations refugee camp was set up at Matargarup, which is a significant cultural site. Despite strong community support for the camp, the Perth city council launched a series of raids. They sent police horses against the homeless and stole everything: took tents, sleeping bags and everything, and extinguished our sacred fire.

Enough was enough. I decided to walk to these communities and gather their stories and take them to the prime minister in Canberra. Our Elders fought so hard to get these communities built. I do not want to see communities close down and see my people lose their home because a government has decided not to fund services.

I started my Walk for Justice on 8 September, 2016 with virtually no funding or resources, relying on the goodwill of a handful of volunteers. Large welcome marches have been held in Port Augusta, Adelaide and Melbourne and many other community events have been held in towns along the way.

In Canberra I want to bring together Aboriginal Elders and leaders and non-Aboriginal people and tell the government and the governor general that it’s time for change. It’s time to sort this business out.

This article was first published with Guardian Australia on 29 June as part of their collaboration with IndigenousX

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