Clinton Pryor’s Walk for Justice
It was in the middle of a Western Australian desert that Clinton Pryor snapped.
He took off his hat and stamped on it, then threw away his walking stick, adorned with the colours of the Aboriginal flag.
It was November, and the sweltering heat had finally gotten to the 26-year-old Aboriginal man. He had already walked nearly 1500 kilometres from Perth, but his hope of reaching the other side of the country was disappearing.
Standing on the side of the road, he screamed into the wilderness: “What am I doing out here?”
Pryor was less than 100 days into his planned walk across Australia, from Perth to Canberra, to draw attention to the plight of Indigenous Australians and protest against the forced closures of remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia.
But he knew he was there for a reason, and that he could make a difference, so he kept going, one step at a time.
Pryor soon reached Warburton, where he was welcomed with open arms and fresh water by the local community.
From there, the walk became easier with each day. Nearly a year later, he has made it to Sydney, with an emotional visit to Redfern along the way, and is only a short trek away from the nation’s capital. The walk has become a symbol of the injustices faced by First Australians and the growing unrest boiling under the surface of this country.
It all began on Heirisson Island in Perth. Pryor had been invited there to meet the Indigenous people camping on the island who were protesting against the treatment of Aboriginal homeless. He spent 15 months with the community, and saw firsthand residents being forcibly removed by police.
“When I got there I learnt so much about our sovereign people and what we’ve been fighting for,” Pryor says.
Still dealing with the news that former Western Australian premier Colin Barnett planned to forcibly close a number of remote Aboriginal communities, Pryor decided to take a stand. “I was sitting around the camp fire thinking about what I can do to keep the voice alive and the fire burning,” he says. “That’s when the idea of doing a big walk across the country for justice came, as a way to bring awareness and to educate the majority of non-Indigenous Australians.”
Pryor has walked more than 5000 kilometres through the heart of Australia, passing Uluru, Adelaide and Melbourne on his way to New South Wales. His journey has taken him from the unbearable heat of the deserts in the west to snow-tipped mountains in the east.
It’s a journey that has allowed him to reconnect with his country and culture, especially during a 15-day trek in the Gibson Desert.
“That experience out there was unbelievable; it was a different world,” he says. “It’s a world where you don’t have any laws and no one is fighting with anyone. It’s just completely free and wild. That’s how I visualise what it was like in the old days.”
Following complications in Western Australia, Clinton’s Walk for Justice now has a support group of eight people, made possible by nearly $17,000 raised through crowdfunding.
When I speak to Pryor, he is traversing a particularly difficult uphill section of mountains on the south-east coast of NSW. He is regularly interrupted by his own panted breathing and the sound of large trucks driving past. But he speaks confidently – he has the self-assuredness that you’d expect of someone in the midst of walking across an entire continent for a message about which he is passionate.
Pryor was born in the Perth suburb of Subiaco and spent his early years in a remote Aboriginal community. At the age of seven, he returned to Perth. He identifies as a Wajuk, Balardung, Kija and Yulparitja man from the west.
It was the death of his father that changed Pryor’s life forever, at first tearing it to the ground, and then helping to spur the great journey to come. He made three promises to his father: to look after his family, to help his people, and to keep their culture alive. He was 16 years old at the time, 10 years before he set out on the walk.
Then Pryor’s life fell apart. He lost his job, broke up with his girlfriend and spent two years living on the streets. It was these experiences that led to his anger and despair, and his desire to make a difference.
The walk was initially focused on the forced closure of remote Indigenous communities, with Pryor planning to discuss it with the prime minister when he reached Canberra. But through meetings with community elders along the way, Pryor’s views have evolved and his political message has become far stronger. He now hopes to bypass the prime minister and meet the governor-general to discuss a treaty.
“That’s something that should’ve been done a long time ago – they should have organised a treaty from the very beginning,” Pryor says. “I’ve realised that this country is living by a lie and not by the truth of justice. And the truth is the only way forward for the country.”
The walk has drawn a lot of attention to Pryor’s cause, with skilled use of social media bringing in nearly 25,000 followers.
“It has changed the views of people,” Pryor says. “Everyone believes what the bloody media says, but social media brings out the truth. It has brought people closer together to share nature and knowledge.
“I wanted to make Australians understand and see with their own eyes what’s happening around the country. With social media, they can now see with their own eyes.”
Pryor says it is the support he has received, from Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, that has kept him going through the toughest moments.
“It’s been really, really amazing,” he says. “The support, love and strength from the people from all different cultures has given me the strength to continue and push forth. I’ve realised that everyone is not bad after all. They just want a good life and to be treated fairly.”
One of the first stops on Clinton’s walk was in Kalgoorlie for the funeral last year of Elijah Doughty, the 14-year-old Aboriginal teenager who was run down and killed by a 56-year-old white driver. More than seven months later, when the accused killer was given a sentence of three years for dangerous driving, Pryor had made it to the other side of the country. While news of the sentence, and the rejection of the higher charge of manslaughter, initially shattered Pryor, it eventually motivated him to continue the walk and spread the message of injustice.
“It made me feel like I had to finish this walk and keep going,” he says. “We have to keep fighting for human rights, for change and justice and for peace and unity. I decided to get back on my feet and get to Canberra to get this done once and for all.”
Pryor plans to arrive in Canberra by the start of September. From there, he isn’t quite sure what he will do, but he has a sense of purpose and drive.
“The walk has changed my life – it has made me become something more than I was,” he says. “I always wanted to do more but I wouldn’t have thought about walking across an entire continent before. But now I’m almost there.
“It’s something that I can say to myself, that I achieved something very good in my life. That I walked across country for justice, awareness and unity for everyone.”
While Pryor has a sense of pride in how far he has come in the past year, he prefers to look to the future, to the finish line that is almost in sight. And the walk for justice will continue long after that.
“All I want in the end,” he says, “is to get this country back on its feet again and starting to walk side by side together to move forward as a multicultural nation.”
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 19, 2017 as "Walk tall". Subscribe here.