15 February 2011

Vale Mark Fordham

It is with great sadness that Melbourne Anti-Intervention Collective passes on the news of the death of Mark Fordham. The collective extends its condolences to Mark's family and friends.

An inspiring Aboriginal rights activist, Mark may be best known to people in Melbourne through his public battle with the Barkly Shire over work conditions in Ampilawatja in the Northern Territory. Mark leaves an enduring legacy through his courageous stance over this issue as well as his other work campaigning against the injustice of the Northern Territory Intervention. The community of activists and unionists in Melbourne that have been fighting in solidarity with those in the Northern Territory were spurred on by Mark's commitment. He will not be forgotten. 

The ordeal that Mark was put through after he stood up to the management at Barkly Shire was appalling. After reporting on a public health hazard, a risk both for the workers he was responsible for and the broader population of Ampilawatja, Mark was fired from his job and he and his two sons were evicted from their house with only two hours notice. Mark experienced further persecution when ridiculous charges were made on him by police, all for his vigorous defense of the dignity of a town being strangled by oppressive government policy. It is highly commendable that Mark withstood the avalanche of personal attacks and held firm his determination to fight for what was right.

In July of last year, I saw Mark give his first public speech at the Defending Indigenous Rights conference in Alice Springs. Like many activists in Melbourne, I had heard Mark's story of his experiences at Ampilawatja and I was eager to hear him tell his story in person. It was one of the highlights of the conference and inspired myself, and I'm sure many others, to get further involved in the Aboriginal rights struggle. Following on from the publicity generated by the scandal at Ampilawatja, Mark embarked on a speaking tour where he told his story and detailed the exploitation of Aboriginal workers on the CDEP 'Aboriginal work-for-the-dole' scheme. In Brisbane and Sydney, he was able to raise awareness of what was happening under the NT Intervention to hundreds of workers on construction sites and wharfs, as well as students and activists. 

Mark was passionate about winning justice for Aboriginal workers, and this was reflected in his most immediate plans to organise amongst construction workers in the town camps of the Northern Territory. He was also slated to be the CFMEU delegate at this week's ACTU Indigenous Conference in Darwin. 

That an inspiring Aboriginal activist has lost his life at such a young age, only 37, is a tragedy and a profound loss to the campaign for Aboriginal rights in Australia. We take heart from the strong spirit that Mark showed, particularly in these last couple of years where we fought alongside him against the Intervention. We will draw on Mark's legacy to keep fighting for the dignity of Aboriginal workers that he was so passionately dedicated to. 

Alex Ettling on behalf of Melbourne Anti-Intervention Collective

Mark Fordham's funeral will be held on Thursday 17 February 2011 at the mosque in Alice Springs.