On Australia Day 2017, Cheree Toka started a campaign calling for the Aboriginal flag to fly every day on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Today, the Kamilaroi woman has 65,000 online supporters through her Change.org petition and she’s calling on Sydneysiders to put pressure on NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian to answer her calls.
Standing underneath the Harbour Bridge, having completed a crowd-funded BridgeClimb, the 27 year old said she was “upset and disheartened” not to see the Aboriginal flag on her climb. “I felt worthless. If it’s good enough to fly up there for a measly 15 days a year, then why isn’t it good enough to keep up there forever?”
The Aboriginal flag is currently flown for Australia Day, NAIDOC Week and Reconciliation Week, a fact that surprises visitors to Sydney – including those on the climb with Toka.
“People on the walk didn’t know that Aboriginal people were [historically] referred to as ‘flora and fauna’ and they weren’t even on the census until 1967, so they were really upset about that, but our tour guide also [talked] about Aboriginal history and culture, which was positive.”
It’s 50 years since 90 per cent of the population voted to support a change to the Constitution, which ensured Indigenous people were counted in the census and gave the federal government power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
It’s only four years ago that the Aboriginal flag and the Australian flag were raised and flown together for the first time on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
“We need people to make noise,” says Toka. “Let’s be loud and let’s let Berejiklian know that we want this to happen. She wanted to listen to the views of the community, these are the 65,000 views of the community that she needs to listen to.”
Support for the campaign has come from Independent MP Alex Greenwich, Labor MP Tanya Plibersek, Change.org and Amnesty International, who are helping Cheree to collect physical signatures at Yabun Festival on January 26 this year.
Toka has approached Gladys Berejiklian a number of times during the year. She also called upon her Change.org supporters to write to the premier.
“She’s declined the offer and not really responded to previous requests either. It’s an important issue, wouldn’t she want it in her profile for 2018? Is she scared? What is she afraid of and why isn’t she talking to me?
“I want Gladys Berejiklian to meet me and look me in the eye and tell me why my Aboriginal culture is worth less than anyone else’s.”