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Issue #1922      July 6, 2020


Dear Guardian Editor,

I had a nasty shock the other night, on Thursday 18th June. I glued an A4 size notice to the statue of Lachlan Macquarie in Hyde Park. I had done it before. On it was a quote from Macquarie himself:

“All Aborigines from Sydney onwards are to be made prisoners of war and if they resist they are to be shot and their bodies to be hung from trees in the most conspicuous places near where they fall so as to strike fear into the hearts of surviving natives.”

This is an uncontroversial quote, part of the 1816 Appin Massacre of the Gundaungarra and Dharrawal people. These orders were given by Macquarie, the Governor of NSW (1810-1821) in the lead-up to the massacre at Appin, 16km south of Campbelltown. At least fourteen Indigenous people were killed, driven by soldiers off a cliff. They were men, women and children.

I was intercepted by three police cars on College Street. I was taken to the police station on Day Street, Darling Harbour, where the police charged me and denied bail. I was then taken to Surry Hills police station lock-up. This was a shocker. Nothing to read, no daylight, no clocks, endless waiting, handcuffs when any of us were taken by unfriendly guards, from the cell. We were held incommunicado: no contact with the outside, except for a buzzer, for emergency use only. The toilet was open, at one side of the bare room.

What saved it being complete purgatory were Chen and Boo in the cell with me. Boo needed psychological help, amiable but very down at heel, talking and laughing to himself. Chen was a student from China. This is where the most marginalised people are held by the police. “Innocent until proved guilty,” simply did not apply. It was run by the “NSW Corrective Services.” I have yet to discover what was “corrective” about it. It was all punitive.

I was released after twenty hours. I feel very sorry for Chen and Boo. I don’t know what happened to them. An Aboriginal gentleman, Paul, who was with me in the next dock at Day Street, was released at the same time. We had become friends. He had been distressed at the prospect of going to Surry Hills lock-up. Now I understood why.

There are two issues here. The first is one of freedom of expression. I did not deface or harm the wretched statue, but gave information about Macquarie that is not widely known – his part in killing the true owners of the land Europeans stole and colonised. Secondly, the conditions in which prisoners are kept amount to mental torture, and are a scandal. The penal colony lives on under our feet.

I have an excellent lawyer. I will be “pleading” not guilty. As the East Timorese always said, “TO RESIST IS TO WIN”.

With solidarity and best wishes,

Stephen Langford OT (Order of Timor)

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