Arrests, anger at island camp
A woman carrying a baby is caught up in the police action. Picture: Alex Bainbridge

Police have vowed to maintain pressure on the protesters at Heirisson Island after four men were arrested when about 70 police descended on the Aboriginal tent embassy yesterday afternoon.

The men were arrested when they tried to set up a second camp on the western end of the island after dozens of riot squad police and officers from the mounted and dog sections helped City of Perth rangers dismantle the camp at the eastern end about 2.30pm.

The arrests sparked furious outbursts from protesters and as mounted police rushed to defuse the situation one horse bumped 28-year-old pregnant woman Shilo Harrison, who had a baby in her arms.

Ms Harrison received a cut above her left eye and almost dropped the 13-week-old girl as she stumbled.

A police spokesman said the incident would be investigated if a complaint was made.

The group, protesting against the State Government's $1 billion offer to settle native title claims from Noongars over Perth and the south west, set up the tent embassy on February 12.

Central metropolitan district Supt Scott Higgins said yesterday's tough action had been necessary because protesters had repeatedly ignored directives from the City of Perth to stop camping on the island. It was the third time police and rangers had attempted to close the protest camp.

"In recent days and again this morning there were instances of concern to police, including disorderly conduct, threats to members of the public and media, damage to public property and a fire lit earlier today," Supt Higgins said. "These protesters are welcome, like any, to legally publicise their cause. But in this case the City of Perth was dealing with illegal camping."

Activist Greg Martin said it had been a peaceful protest and police were heavy-handed in arresting the four men on charges including obstructing police, disorderly conduct and refusing to provide information to police. "We tried to avoid a confrontation so went to the other side of the island but they came after us and made the trouble," he said. "The police always intended to arrest someone."

South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council chief executive Glen Kelly said he had been distressed by yesterday's events. "We never wanted people to be arrested and for this sort of event to happen," he told Radio 6PR.

Mr Kelly said the Government's proposed native title deal with Noongars included an investment fund to provide lasting income for Noongar people into the future to support the management of land, cultural activities and social initiatives. The council's board of directors, elected by the organisation's 4000 members, had a strong view that any funds secured needed to be "durable long into the future".

Aboriginal leader Ted Wilkes said he empathised with the protesters but disagreed with confrontation.

"I think what we need now is for common sense to prevail and for both sides to get together," he said.

Protester Herbert Bropho, one of those charged by police, said before his arrest that the embassy would not be shut down permanently.

"It'll be back and up running real quick," he said. "They can't get rid of all of us. We'll just keep coming back and moving around the island. They can't stop us." Police said 21 tents, two cars, a dinghy and camping equipment were seized.

Premier Colin Barnett said the protesters' actions risked undermining wider public support for Aboriginal people and reconciliation.

Around 6.30pm, police and fire fighters were called to the island after numerous small fires were lit on the banks of the river. Firefighters assessed the risk of the fires to spread to be low and deemed that for "cultural reasons" they would be permitted.

The West Australian

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