Reflections on Yoorrook and Palestine

7 Jun 2024

Today (June 7th) marks the final day of the Yoorrook Justice Commission hearings investigating injustices in housing, health, education and economic life for First Nations peoples in Victoria. These hearings are providing space for First Nations peoples’ to give evidence in a larger act of Truth-telling, to acknowledge and hold account the institutions that contribute to genocidal and discriminatory practices. But, Sissy Austin writes, we can not be selective of which genocides we choose to be outraged over.

artwork by @carladrawz

I am a Gunditjmara Keerray Wooroong Djab Wurrung woman. I am one of  many First Nations Peoples in so-called Victoria who have been watching closely at the edge of our seats, with tears rolling down our faces as the Yoorrook Justice Commission enters its third year of formal truth-telling into the historical and ongoing injustices inflicted on our people, our families, our land, totems and waters. 

Headed up by five Commissioners; Yoorrook is uncovering deeply horrific truths of the attempted genocide and colonisation of our people, lands, totems and waters. Yoorrook, meaning ‘truth’ in Wemba Wemba/Wamba Wamba language, with full powers of a royal commission, is the first truth-telling body to be established in Australia.

Yoorrook has thus far heard stories from Elders and investigated justice, child protection, youth justice, land, sky, water, health, housing and education. Witness testimonies can be watched via the Yoorrook website

How Yoorrook’s Truth-telling calls for justice

Through this truth-telling, stories of pain, suffering and trauma are being told by victim/survivors of attempted genocide and colonisation. In attendance are also those employed by institutions such as police, that perpetrated these acts against First Nations peoples. However, it is clear they’re there only because they have to be, and many only sharing the absolute minimum to get in and out and back to their colonial business as usual. As I witnessed the evidence given by certain representatives of these institutions, I felt like there was a reluctance to share the truth with full transparency.

The United Nations defines the crime of genocide as:

any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial or religious group’ such as; killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

With the definition of genocide draped as the backdrop to our truth telling, there is no hiding from the fact, so-called Australia’s past deliberate wrongdoings fall under this definition. It is almost impossible not to see blood dripping off the hands of the coloniser; the government workers, the child protection workers, police officers throughout the entire country, church leaders and every single human being who chooses to be complicit and stay silent. 

All acts of injustice towards the First Peoples’ of Victoria investigated by Yoorrook thus far have confirmed what our people have always known, that the crime of genocide was committed on our people and continues to be committed today with no penalty or punishment for the crime. As Uncle Robbie Thorpe so powerfully laid out in his evidence.  

Witnessing the truths being told, of what our people were victim to at the hands of the colonisers has been confronting and heart breaking. Perhaps what has made the timing of Yoorrook so gut wrenching in not just the context of Australia, but the context of the world, is having at our fingertips, on our mobile phones, the site, imagery and reality of a mass genocide being committed to the beautiful people of Palestine. 

We are in the process of uncovering what happened to our people at a time where technology wasn’t as advanced, while we witness the mass murdering, bombing, torture of the people and lands of Palestine. It is impossible not to look at the visual real-time documentation and equate it to the crimes our people here in this country were victim to, particularly Frontier Wars such as The Eumeralla Wars on Gunditjmara Country. The Eumeralla Wars were multiple conflicts in south-west victoria between white settlers and Gunditjmara people, these conflicts were bloody and saw white settlers killing approx 6,500 Gunditjmara people including women and children. The Eumeralla Wars is just one conflict that is noted within the Frontier Wars. 

We Gunditjmara people live with the stories of our women and children being murdered in wars such as the Eumeralla Wars just as we are witnessing with the brutality of the Israel Defence Force. 

Genocide is genocide, no matter where it is

You cannot be outraged by the truths being uncovered by Yoorrook and turn a blind eye to the brutal genocide happening in Palestine. 

The Victorian Labour Government has an apparent commitment to truth-telling and treaty. It brands itself as a progressive government that is remorseful for its genocidal acts of the ‘past’ and a government that cares about human lives. All whilst being complicit in another genocide and going as far as to fund weapons manufacturers supplying the materials used to carry out mass brutal murder and destruction. You cannot be sorry for one genocide (Labor) whilst supporting and implementing another.

Imagine committing to uncovering ‘past’ genocidal acts whilst in 2024 being complicit in and supporting the same brutal violence it is apparently sorry for. 

The perpetrators in Victoria who’ve thus far been investigated by Yoorrook are the Victorian State Government, including the Premier, Child Protection, Youth Justice, Prison system workers, Victoria Police as well as churches including the Anglican Church, the Catholic Church and the Uniting Church. Comparatively the perpetrators committing the crime of genocide against Palestinian peoples, lands and waters are the Israeli Government and its associated counterparts.

All perpetrators of the same crime; genocide. A key difference in the attempted Genocide of First Nations Peoples in Australia and the attempted Genocide of Palestinian people is the world is watching Palestine in real time, in the devices in our hands. Devastatingly, the real-time documentation has not brought an end to the brutal mass murders, the destruction, the starvation, but that doesn’t make it any less important. 

First Nations peoples across this country have fought louder and harder than ever before for a free Palestine, as we have seen with the fast growing BlackfullasforPalestine movement, a digital project which aims to strengthen the Palestinian and Blackfulla solidarity. The digital project has thus far published a vast majority of Blackfullas from across the entire country sharing their personal solidarity and vision for the future of collective resistance against genocidal governments. I witness individuals front the Yoorrook Justice Commission, with Commissioners sitting powerfully with possum skins draped on their chairs, I think not only of what my old people went through at the time of European Invasion, I think also of a world I can only wish existed, a world where human-beings lead with love and a world where no human life is treated lesser than another’s.

When Yoorrook hands down its final report and recommendations, only individual  human-beings in this state and country can implement recommendations immediately. Those are the human-beings, who chose to lead and live with love, who chose a better world and understand \it is only you, an individual, who has that power and privilege. Systems don’t run on their own, they don’t destroy lives on their own, systems are human beings making choices and decisions every single day.

I both hope for and dread the day our Palestinian brothers and sisters find themselves in a place similar to where First Nations Peoples of so-called Victoria are now, with their own version of a Yoorrook Justice Commission. It is a distressing place of ‘wonder’ for the mind to enter into, in prognosticating whether Israel will ever be held to account and if justice will ever be seen in the lives and generations of Palestinian survival.  

The hope is for their survival like ours, the dread is for the pain of learning deeply the injustices inflicted on family members, the stripping of their humanity, the intergenerational trauma that will live on through Palestinian survival forever. 

 But best be known, Palestinians will forever have First Nations peoples’ from not just so-called Australia, but across the world, for generations to come, walking and fighting by their side

Uncle Archie Roach wrote a song “Let Love Rule” – it is the words of his song that I truly believe can and will change the world. Uncle Archie Roach experienced deep pain and loss through his journey, but within that he learnt that there was and always is a place for love and healing in this world.





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