Indigenous people are facing racism and campaigners for the Voice to Parliament say they are copping abuse as the date of the referendum nears, some even approaching police for support.
Tarrawanna resident and Indigenous woman Chloe Raudonikis said she was recently made to feel "really uncomfortable and anxious" during a taxi ride when the driver called the Voice a "load of rubbish" and stated that "Aboriginals have enough".
Mrs Raudonikis and her husband Brad said they had seen racist sentiment grow in the lead-up to the Voice.
"I've even said to my husband, 'I don't want to get too dark in the sun, because I don't want to get bashed or something," Mrs Raudonikis said.
Dr Summer May Finlay, a University of Wollongong senior lecturer in Indigenous health and Yorta Yorta woman, would be surprised if there was an Indigenous person who hadn't experienced racism, with "lots of people on social media making blanket statements about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people".
When people made such comments, she said, they were talking about her and her children.
"A seven-week-old and a two-year-old, who don't deserve... to have to put up with this kind of racial abuse in a country like ours," Dr Finlay said.
She said she had had racist comments on her social media posts, most often from nameless and faceless accounts "which tells me that they know they're unacceptable".
Dr Finlay had seen non-Indigenous people step up and speak out against such abuse, which she said was encouraging.
"But it's still quite shocking how prevalent the racism has been," she said.
Anti-Discrimination NSW has partnered with Indigenous crisis support service 13YARN to create a new toolkit to support the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people during the referendum process, while the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) and Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet have collected online resources to reduce harm to Indigenous people.
"We are witnessing first-hand the adverse consequences of this debate within our communities, manifesting as heightened psychological distress, an increased demand for assistance, and a rise in the utilisation of social and emotional wellbeing and mental health services," NACCHO chief executive officer Pat Turner said.
Through its campaign 'Racism. It Stops With Me', the Australian Human Rights Commission has also provided online resources to empower bystanders to take action when they see racist abuse.
Meanwhile, the National Justice Project is asking people to record instances of racism against Indigenous people through Call It Out, a project with the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research.
Tina Smith, coordinator of the Woonona/Bulli Yes23 campaign, said volunteers at the regular Saturday set-up in Bulli copped abuse from people passing in cars or on bicycles, including at least one person who regularly hurled insults.
The "yes" supporters who swam at North Wollongong Beach, Ms Smith said, had asked for a police presence at their events because of a group that had grown bolder.
Ms Smith said she had seen abuse that, while not outright racist slurs, had racial undertones: comments such as "They don't need anything, they've been given everything".
Ms Smith said her group had also stopped putting up posters until closer to the referendum because they kept getting torn down or defaced.
"If you want to put up 'no' posters, then put them up," Ms Smith said.
Some business owners were also fearful to show support, she said, because of potential backlash.
But while abuse was a regular occurrence at campaigning activities, Ms Smith said they also had some good engagement from others.
Debates about the Voice on social media have quickly become incendiary, with people - both supporters and opponents of the Voice - seen swapping insults in the comments on the Mercury's Facebook page.
Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said most people were considerate in their discussions around the Voice, but acknowledged debate had deteriorated.
"We can have a debate and discuss these things without being abusive, and specifically without being abusive towards our First Nations people," Cr Bradbery said.
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