The upcoming federal by-election in the Mayo ward of South Australia is not your average election, because of the mix of candidates.
This election is due to Rebekah Sharkie’s resignation, as she was ineligible to hold the position under section 44 of the constitution. She hopes to regain the ward for the new Centre Alliance Party.
Georgina Downer, Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs and long-term Victorian resident, is the Liberal candidate. Georgina Downer has spoken publicly of her desire to continue the Downer ‘dynasty’ in South Australia. Given her great grandfather’s lack of fortitude to make just decisions during the frontier wars, which saw Aboriginal people murdered or driven off their ancestral lands, perhaps some political dynasties need to come to an end – so we can all move forward.
Another candidate walks in the footsteps of his ancestors, and champions First Peoples’ 60,000+ years of caring for Country and community.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting on Country with Major Sumner, the Greens’ candidate, talking history, the environment, community, young people, and hopes for the future.
Major Sumner AM is a respected senior Ngarrindjeri Elder, and a familiar public figure in South Australia. He is a nationally and internationally renowned environmental activist, artist, cultural educator and ambassador. Many know him as Moogy, others know him as Uncle.
Moogy is a traditional owner of a wide section of the Mayo ward. And the Ngarrindjeri Nation (which comprises of interconnected peoples, such as Ramindjeri) have always had strong relationships with Kaurna, Peramangk, Ngadjuri and other peoples whose Country makes up the rest of the ward.
Who better to represent the people of this ward than a true local?
As Moogy said, ‘I’m there for the people, because I am one of the people.’
Mayo is a large ward, covering suburban districts in the Adelaide hills, and rural locations from the Barossa Valley right down to the Fleurieu Peninsula in the south. Primary industry includes agriculture (vineyards, food and grain crops, and livestock), aquaculture, mining, tourism, renewable energy, and more.
I asked Moogy what motivated him to run in this by-election, and in this ward. People and the environment have always been a focus for Moogy, and that carries through to his political aspirations.
He believes that Aboriginal voices in parliament are not just good for Aboriginal people but for every Australian. Bringing knowledge passed down through many generations, Aboriginal people in government can show other Australians how to look after the environment, and each other.
He spoke of how important it is to protect and revitalise the River Murray. To ensure economic practices all along the Murray remain sustainable into the future, and in recognition of how vital a healthy river is for people, animals and land.
To raise awareness of climate change is another motivator for Moogy. He feels that every Australian needs to be more conscious of their own contribution to climate change, from filling up their cars to every time they switch on electricity. And to take measures to reduce this impact.
Moogy sees renewable energy as a key industry to invest in, for now and future generations. And he recognised how important it is to protect the pristine Great Australian Bight from gas and oil drilling.
He does not want to see more communities conducting lead tests on children because of unsound mining practices, like in Port Pirie. And he thinks the use of dangerous chemicals in agriculture needs to change, as toxins are carried long distances by wind, causing health problems for people.
As he said, ‘If we are doing this much damage to ourselves, imagine what we are doing to the earth.’
When this by-election arose, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young approached Major Sumner. He said yes immediately, as ‘The Greens are doing something we, as Aboriginal people, have been doing for thousands of years – looking after the environment. If a group is willing to fight for the environment, then I’ll put up my hand to join them.’
If elected, Moogy will be able to share ages-old knowledge with more people, to help them understand how important it is to look after this continent.
‘Everyone who was born here, or lives here now, they need to be part of the healing of this country, and of ourselves,’ he said.
Moogy is affectionately known as the rainmaker, for his dedication to the health of the Murray River. He has been leading Ringbalin for many years, to teach people about how important rivers and seas are.
He also teaches children about Aboriginal history and human rights, so they can learn from the past to build a better future.
Moogy believes we need to do more to support young people. Youth suicide is something he feels needs urgent attention. He shared with me a recent tragedy, where a 11-year-old girl died by suicide.
“Children should be enjoying themselves, being a child. Not thinking of suicide,” he said.
Moogy knows too many people are struggling. He wants to see more investment in hospitals, mental health, and schools. Moogy has been involved in grassroots initiatives to improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but he knows health is an area of concern for many Australians
Moogy credited the Greens for wanting to invest in people, for being strong on human rights, as well as having good environmental and economic policies.
I asked Moogy what he’d say to those that might not think his vision represents theirs. He said that he is open to anyone wanting to have that conversation. If invited, he would visit them, and listen.
“I would then take their words to Canberra, not mine. I would sit down and talk with them, so I can properly represent them. And take their concerns to the government in Canberra.”
I joked how I’d like to be a fly on the wall when Moogy gave his maiden speech in parliament. He said he’ll proudly wear the bone through his nose, with a new red cloth-band for his forehead.
“It would be good to get there, to get things done, and to talk for the land and people,” he said.
And I think many would be glad to see him there, as Moogy will bring winds of change with him.
If ancestors could vote, I wonder which candidate they’d choose to represent Mayo? Would they see this election as a chance to make amends for those who lost their lives during the frontier wars? Would they prioritise caring for country, waters, and community?
Ancestors can’t vote but their descendants can, and everyone that now calls Australia home.
The Mayo by-election is an opportunity that is rarely presented, A chance to put people and the environment first – to build a better foundation for future generations.
NB: Karen Wyld is not a member of any political party and has no affiliation with any of the candidates.
Luke Pearson is a Gamilaroi man, and is the founder and CEO of IndigenousX.