My name is Talgium of the Taungerung … My people have never ceded our sovereignty …This is a statement made many times by Uncle Howard Talgium "Choco" Edwards (2Time) a proud Boon Wurrung, Taungurong, Yorta Yorta, Mutti Mutti and Palawa Elder. Uncle is a member of the Stolen Generation and a strong man, warrior and one who fights for mobs’ rights. Uncle Talguim speaks to Arthur Jackson about NAIDOC and it’s theme in 2020 being “Always Was Always Will Be” Uncle has had many court appearances in his life where he has fought for his right to have a voice. Here is an extract of an event that took place in 2014. “What are you here for?”, someone shouts across the foyer. “Trespass”, replies a smiling man. It’s Thursday morning at the magistrates’ court in Heidelberg, a suburb in Melbourne’s north-east.
The swagger of a few louder characters is noticeable only because the majority wear nervous faces and ill-fitting suits, and have whispered conversations with lawyers they’ve probably just met. Protective services officers circle the area in pairs. Police move in and out of different courts. Aboriginal man Talgium Edwards is one of those awaiting a hearing. Talgium’s friends call him Choco; he has plenty around him today. But no lawyer. Like everyone else, he’ll be called into one of the rooms, but Talgium isn’t here to submit to judgment.
“I am fronting Heidelberg Court on the 13th of March and will be asking them to produce their proof of our consent and where they got their jurisdiction”, he wrote in a public invitation for supporters to appear with him at court today. There will be no plea of guilt or innocence, because the court has “no jurisdiction”.
Talgium’s friend, prominent Aboriginal activist Robbie Thorpe, explains that hundreds, perhaps thousands, have made this submission in Australian courts. “Our law precedes their law”, he says.
“I’m fighting for my people’s rights – until sovereignty is recognised”, says Talgium outside court five. He’s not sure what will happen inside but expects that the case will have to be moved to a higher court. He’s never done this before. He holds a written statement that he will read to the magistrate. In part, it states: “My name is Talgium of the Taungerung … My people have never ceded our sovereignty … I plead no jurisdiction and wish to be dealt with by my people of the Kulin Nation where this court presides. You are not my peers and this court does not have jurisdiction to hear the case.”
While we wait, Talgium pulls from his notebook a photocopied newspaper clipping. It’s stamped “DHS – Freedom of Information”. “It came from my ward file”, he explains. “It’s the only photo I have of me as a kid.” An image of a young boy named Howard Edwards accompanies the article. “I’m a stolen, assimilated, correctionalised, government-made grassroots man – spent ’56 to ’79 in institutions and prisons”, he says.
“Alert, 10-year-old Howard Edwards is the natural choice as leader of his class at the Orphanage State School”, the article starts. “He is the best scholar, the best sportsman – and the most popular boy in Grade 4.” I’m still reading the article when Talgium is called into the court. “The last two or three decades has seen a revolution in scientific thinking on racial characteristics …” is as far as I get.
The first thing we hear seconds later is someone barking at him to identify himself. “Are you Mr Edwards, sir?” Talgium confirms his identity to the magistrate as he sits at the bar table alone. “Are you pleading guilty or not guilty?” Talgium rises to announce he’s pleading no jurisdiction. Immediately impatient, the magistrate retorts that guilty or not guilty are the only acceptable responses. Talgium asks for help. “Can I get a speaker to interpret my...” “No”, interrupts the magistrate.
Someone from the public gallery hands Talgium a book. It’s not his statement but he begins reading from it anyway. It’s a passage about jurisdiction. The magistrate again interrupts. He will deem Talgium to have entered a not guilty plea.
Talgium tries again. “The point is to plead no jurisdiction”, he says. “I don’t accept that”, says the magistrate. As he instructs the police to proceed with their case, someone stands from a seat in the gallery to declare, “This court is over.” Talgium and his supporters leave, but the case continues in his absence.
“They would not allow him his voice”, says longtime friend Cheryl Kaulfuss outside the court. “He’s really tried to get it together to challenge the system. It’s almost like he knows – it’s nearing the end of his life – that it’s good to go out packing a punch, standing firmly where you are. You know, to leave an example – it’s your land.”
It was an example of principled defiance all right. It was also another glaring example of a system that still refuses to acknowledge the voices of the people it has dispossessed.
by Steph Price 24 March 2014