National Museum of Australia – Aboriginal Tent Embassy
Almost since the beginning of European colonization, Indigenous Australians have fought to maintain their rights to their ancestral lands and territories. The 1960s and 1970s were a period of increased national awareness of Indigenous activism, which resulted in substantial measures being conducted by organisations involved in the land rights movement. It all started with a walkout by 200 Gurindji stockmen, domestic employees, and their families from Wave Hill Station in 1966, marking the beginning of a seven-year-long strike.
The 1967 referendum, in which Aboriginal Australians were officially recognized as citizens, helped fueled the land rights movement by elevating the topic of Indigenous concerns to the attention of the wider Australian public, giving the movement even more impetus.
The Bark Petition was started in 1963 after traditional lands of the Yolngu people in Arnhem Land were sold without their consent to Nabalco, a bauxite mining company.
Indigenous people all around Australia were incensed when Justice Blackburn ruled against the Yolngu on the grounds that Native Title did not exist under Australian law, and the decision was appealed.
These actions spurred action among numerous Indigenous organizations and contributed directly to the establishment of the Tent Embassy following the continued disappointments of the land rights movement.
Tent Embassy formed
It started off as a modest beach umbrella and tent, but over time it evolved into a focal point and gathering spot for Aboriginal land rights and sovereignty activists. Even after numerous transformations through time, the Embassy has remained a significant symbol of Aboriginal rights to this day.
A land rights issue
From a basic beach umbrella and tent, it grew into a focal point and gathering place for activists fighting for Indigenous land rights and sovereignty. Even after numerous transformations through time, the Embassy has remained a potent symbol of Aboriginal rights for generations.
The Tent Embassy is born
In January 1972, four young Aboriginal men, Billy Craigie, Tony Coorey, Michael Anderson, and Bert Williams, drove from Sydney to Canberra in protest against the Australian government’s rejection of Aboriginal land rights in its Land Rights Statement. The land was taken away from us without our consent. It shouldn’t be necessary for us to lease it. We believe that our spiritual beliefs are linked to the earth – Michael Anderson Towards the end of the day on Invasion Day, they set up a beach umbrella and a tent on the grounds in front of Parliament House, with a sign reading “Aboriginal Embassy.” The demonstration was dramatic, and it demonstrated how Aboriginal people have been forced to feel foreign to their own territories by government policies.
It got a great deal of media attention as well as widespread support from both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities.
During a press conference on February 6th, the Embassy delivered a list of requests to the government, most of which were centered on land rights problems. The requirements were as follows:
- When Billy Craigie, Tony Coorey, Michael Anderson, and Bert Williams set out from Sydney to Canberra in January 1972 to protest the Australian government’s rejection of Aboriginal land rights, they were met by a large crowd. We were forcibly removed from our land. It shouldn’t be necessary for us to rent it. A connection exists between our spiritual beliefs and the earth, says Michael Anderson. They set up a beach umbrella and a tent on the lawns outside Parliament House late in the day on Invasion Day, with a banner that said ‘Aboriginal Embassy’ on it. Indigenous people were made to feel foreign to their own territories, as seen by the protest, which was quite effective. Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people alike expressed their enthusiasm for the project in the media. During a press conference on February 6th, the Embassy submitted a list of requests to the government, the most of which were centered on land rights. Here are some of the specifications:
When Billy Craigie, Tony Coorey, Michael Anderson, and Bert Williams set out from Sydney to Canberra in January 1972, they were protesting the Australian government’s rejection of Aboriginal land rights. The land was taken away from us without our permission. We shouldn’t have to rent it out to anyone. We believe that our spiritual beliefs are tied to the earth – Michael Anderson They set up a beach umbrella and a tent on the lawns outside Parliament House late in the day on Invasion Day, with a banner that said ‘Aboriginal Embassy.’ Indigenous people were made to feel foreign to their own territories, as seen by the protest, which was extremely forceful.
During a press conference on February 6th, the Embassy delivered a list of requests to the government, most of which were centered on land rights problems.
Within a few days, a large number of additional Aboriginal and racial justice activists, including Gordon Briscoe, Paul Coe, Gary Foley, Bruce McGuinness, and Roberta Sykes, had joined those already present in the embassy. By the time Parliament reconvened in mid-February, eleven tents had been set up on the lawns of the House of Commons in support of the Embassy. People of many backgrounds, including Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, came together in protest of the McMahon government’s attitude on land rights.
Students joined the throngs on the lawns and, with the help of the Student Representative Council, formed a bank account to fund the Embassy’s operations.
Despite widespread support for the Embassy, a significant number of MPs and members of the general public considered they were trespassing and little more than an irritant on the grounds of Parliament and refused to allow them to remain.
The National Museum of Australia is located in Canberra, Australia.
Removal and re-establishment
In order to relocate the Embassy away from the grounds of Parliament, officials used significant pressure to do so. Many demonstrators were detained and a large number of tents were pulled down on the 20th of July as police brutally battled with hundreds of protestors who were forcibly removed off the lawns by the police. By the following week, protestors had re-erected the Embassy and tents, but a further altercation with officials resulted in the tents being pulled down once more, this time completely.
On July 31, 1972, protestors built tents in a peaceful demonstration in front of the White House, drawing more than 2000 individuals in attendance.
They maintained their focus on land rights, but they also addressed other issues that affect Aboriginal people, such as funding for Aboriginal communities, political representation, self-determination, and sovereignty, among others.
The Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the lawns of (Old) Parliament House in Canberra was established in 1974 by a group of activists. Australia’s National Archives are housed in the National Library of Australia.
The Aboriginal Tent Embassy has been in existence for more than 40 years and continues to serve as a focal point and a symbol of the struggle for our rights and the recognition of our people’s sovereign rights and sovereignty. Several rallies and marches have started and ended there, and it has become a symbol of the Australian Mob movement. The embassy represents the ongoing struggle for land rights and the determination to end discrimination – Isabell CoeVisitors and community members are encouraged to visit the embassy to place gum leaves on the ceremonial fire as well as to sit and talk with those working at the embassy about the embassy’s long history and about all of the Aboriginal political movements that have taken place during that time period.
– Isabell Coe
Tent Embassy Documentary
The Tent Embassy is the subject of a documentary by Francis Little concerning its installation.
Sources used in writing this article:
- Aboriginal Tent Embassy, Official Website
- Aboriginal Tent Embassy, National Museum Australia
- Aboriginal Embassy, 1972, National Museum Australia
- Aboriginal Tent Embassy, National ABC News reports on the history of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. Timeline: Aboriginal Tent Embassy, NITV
- Aboriginal Tent Embassy, NITV
Aboriginal Tent Embassy: 50 years of Indigenous protest
It has been standing for 50 years, making it one of the world’s longest-running demonstrations for indigenous rights. However, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, as it is now called, was initially meant to serve as a vigil for the rights of indigenous people. “The truth be known, it was never supposed to be an embassy in the first place. “We went down there to keep a continual vigil,” said Ghillar Michael Anderson, the organization’s founder, who is now 70 years old. “As soon as we were in Canberra, we just stated: ‘Basically this will be a permanent stand-in, and if people question what it’s about, we will explain that it is about land rights, and that we are now squatting on this property and have taken the land back much like the whitefellas.'” The formal anniversary of the formation of the colony of Australia took place on the 26th of January in 1972, on this day in 1972.
Four teenage Aboriginal activists set up a beach umbrella on the grass in front of Parliament House and constructed a banner that read: ‘Aboriginal Embassy’ on the lawn of the building.
According to Anderson, “as soon as the name embassy was put out and hanging up there and they saw it the next day, it connected with a lot of people all across the globe.” “The embassy itself served primarily as a representation for all countries.” We put it up so that the small plot of land on which we occupied would be viewed as a neutral space where Aboriginal people may come and express their ideas on the British occupation that we were under.” On January 27, 1972, the Aboriginal Embassy opened its doors for the first time.
Billy Craigie, Bert Williams, Michael Anderson, and Tony Coorey are seen from left to right.
Anderson achieved academic success despite his parents’ living in “tin shacks on the banks of the Namoi river,” and in 1969 he relocated to Sydney to pursue a degree at the University of Sydney.
As he said to Al Jazeera, “we really hijacked the Vietnam march.” Aboriginal activists accepted that the Vietnam War had been unjustified, but they also pointed out that “they are now killing us on our own country.” “As a result, we were able to shift the thinking of a large number of University students to focus on Land Rights in Australia and to stop murdering Aboriginal people.”
Shocked to action
According to him, the establishment of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in such a prominent location as Australia’s Parliament House was critical in the success of the protesters’ efforts to draw attention to a variety of issues, including land rights, self-determination, and sovereignty, during their demonstration. “It used to be that all these foreign dignitaries would come to the parliament and they’d drive through and see this embassy sitting there asking those questions,” said the ambassador.
“What it accomplished was to startle Australia into dealing with issues that had previously gone unaddressed.” The group was invited to a number of overseas embassies, where foreign authorities were interested in hearing about the challenges that Indigenous peoples were dealing with.
It struck right at the core of Australia’s so-called placid existence, and it was devastating.
As a result, the foreign media picked up on it and said, “Well, hold on a minute, what the heck is going on here?” However, despite the fact that the Embassy quickly drew a growing number of young activists who would go on to become prominent Indigenous voices in Australian politics – such as Gary Foley and Isabel Coe – it was met with fierce opposition from the government and police, who attempted to break it up and move protesters to another location.
Ghillar Since its inception as a vigil in 1972, Michael Anderson has been actively involved in the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and its activities.
Hope for the future
Dhani Gilbert is descended from the Kalari (Lachland River) and Wiradjuri peoples, and she grew up with her family as a key member of the Tent Embassy’s community service program. His determination to continue the struggle for justice has inspired many others. As Gilbert told Al Jazeera, “one thing that always came through for me growing up at the Embassy was this desire for going forward and this hope for a brighter future.” In order to truly accomplish anything, we must come together as a strong community.
In her words, it’s critical that there be “increasing knowledge nationally and globally of what the Aboriginal Tent Embassy stands for, why having a location that is the world’s oldest protest site is so significant, and what it says you about Australia’s lack of action.” “While the Embassy has accomplished a great deal, it has not yet reached the level of success that those four men and the others who supported them had hoped,” she remarked.
- The author specifically admits that Indigenous land rights are intimately tied to environmental justice, and that Indigenous people continue to experience disproportionately high rates of imprisonment and mortality while in detention, among other things.
- Photo courtesy of Anderson.
- ‘I haven’t done my work yet.’ Indigenous people currently constitute more than 28 percent of the population in Australia’s jails, despite the fact that they account for just 3.3 percent of the population.
- “As we approach the 100th anniversary, I would hope that we have seen a significant shift in our attitudes about First Nations people and First Nations justice by that time.” Anderson, a founding member, concurs.
- We still have a long way to go,” says the author.
The End of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy?
Authorities believe the fire that destroyed the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra on June 14th was the result of deliberate arson, according to the authorities. It has sparked a controversy about whether the Tent Embassy should be rebuilt or if it should be removed from the location. Since its establishment on the front lawn of the old Parliament House in 1972, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy has been a source of controversy. It was the first of its kind in the world. The Embassy began as a protest beneath a lawn umbrella in 1992, and it has now grown into a permanent building.
- Tuckey is supported in his opinion by a large number of other members of the administration who believe that the Tent Embassy is an eyesore and that it must be demolished.
- Rather than conspiring to expel the Tent inhabitants from the region, they believe that authorities should concentrate their efforts on apprehending the perpetrators of the crime and safeguarding those who live there.
- On June 20, the police went in fast to dismantle the barrier and detained one member of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy who was restraining them from doing so.
- By making its judgment, the Commission removed the final remaining impediment to the embassy’s decommissioning.
- They have submitted an emergency declaration for the preservation of the site under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act, which will take effect immediately.
The subject has been covered extensively in the Australian media, however the stated reasons for Embassy supporters’ wish to conserve the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, as well as the reasons they believe it is deserving of preservation as an important piece of national history, have been largely overlooked.
- The current Aboriginal flag was developed by protesters in the Tent Embassy.
- Consequently, the administration found itself in an extraordinarily awkward situation.
- Indigenous rights activists in Australia have embraced the Aboriginal Tent Embassy as a powerful symbol of their struggle for recognition of their rights.
- Recently, a fire has been blazing outside the Embassy on a continual basis to underscore the notion of an ongoing conflict.
- More recently, the Aboriginal Embassy has been moved to permanent meeting rooms in a less noticeable location.
A great resolve to guarantee that the struggles and discrimination experienced by many Aboriginal people are not forgotten may be seen in their continuous efforts. Sarah Wolfrum is a Cultural Survival intern at Colby College, as well as a student there.
‘Fifty years of resistance’: Aboriginal Tent Embassy began with an umbrella and became a symbol of sovereignty
Early one morning, four young Aboriginal guys set up a beach umbrella on the grounds facing Parliament House and sat down for a while. When the sun came up on the 26th of January 1972, a police officer approached them and inquired as to how long they meant to stay. “Until we regain our land rights,” one of the four, Billy Craigie, said to the police in his broken English. As reported by the media, Commissioner Gibson chuckled and stated, “it may be a long time.” Craigie responded, “Well, it seems like we’ll be here for a long time.” It has been 50 years since that act of disobedience resulted in the establishment of the Aboriginal tent embassy.
- A protest at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra, Australia, in July 1972, was addressed by Bobbi Sykes (together with Gordon Briscoe). In the photo below, you can see the Aboriginal Tent Embassy at Parliament House in 1972. Photographs courtesy of Ken Whittington/National Archives of Australia.
Before it was established as a permanent presence in 1992, the embassy was founded and reconstructed several times over the years, and it has remained a focal point for Aboriginal resistance in the heart of the Australian capital. According to Dr Gary Foley’s 2014 book The Aboriginal Tent Embassy: Sovereignty, Black Power, Land Rights, and the State, the moniker “tent embassy” was itself a declaration that Aboriginal people were living in inferior conditions, being treated “like aliens in their own land.”
- At the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra, Paul Coe (on the left) speaks with Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1972. John Newfong, a journalist, stands on Whitlam’s right, facing him. Image courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales and the Search Foundation.
According to Foley, “the fact that it has persisted for decades as a forceful symbol rejecting the hypocrisy, dishonesty, and duplicity of successive Australian administrations is a monument to the reluctance of a huge number of Aboriginal people to surrender defeat in a 200-year battle for justice. In his account of Billy Craigie’s incident with police that morning – the first of many on the scene – Michael Anderson recalls how he, along with Tony Coorey and Bertie Williams, made up the initial four people beneath the umbrella that day.
- “In terms of the media, since they were completely unaware of what was going on, this was the first time they had ever seen Aboriginal people challenge the system on anything,” he adds.
- The embassy was touching a chord at just the right time.
- We’d just experienced Woodstock and the Vietnam War.
- I believe we struck the correct note at the appropriate moment.
- “I believe it was a great success from that perspective.”
- In Canberra, Roxley Foley may be found at the Crossroads. Image courtesy of Juno Gemes.
Many Aboriginal people associate the location with a variety of emotions. Roxley Foley lived there as caretaker for three years, from 2016 to 2019, which he refers to as the “Abbott years,” saying that they saw a number of prime ministers “in and out of the home” during that time period. Foley recalls the embassy as a destination of pilgrimage during his time there. “For a significant portion of my stay out there, it fulfilled so many various functions, not just as a location for study but also as a place to face the government.
The prison was very much a site where our group would be held if they came to Canberra and were prevented from getting into certain areas, according to Foley.
- On the 20th of July, 1972, ACT police officers removed tents and bedding from the Aboriginal tent embassy set up on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra. Fairfax Media/Getty Images is credited with this image.
“It’s a location where individuals go to network into housing, into the health care system, or just to be listened to.” The number of elderly individuals who came to that location as if it were a pilgrimage, hoping to find healing for themselves,” says the author. The next significant date is July 20, which marks the 40th anniversary of the day in 1972 when the federal government altered the law to allow police to march into the embassy and violently remove its facilities. There had previously been no formal restriction against camping on the legislative lawns, and during the first six months of the embassy’s expansion, it caused the McMahon administration significant embarrassment both domestically and internationally.
- The Aboriginal Tent Embassy was declared unlawful on July 20, 1972, and police were dispatched to the site to forcefully remove it.
- “I’ve been involved in a few fights in my day.
- According to the records, about 36 police officers were taken to the hospital, and 18 of us were arrested and sentenced to prison.
- “It was one of the most difficult situations I’ve ever been a part of.” The tragedy is featured in the iconic 1972 film, Ningla A-na, which is being exhibited on location this week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the incident.
- In the words of House, “our sovereignty is still alive and well.” According to him, “it’s the continuity of how Aboriginal people have never forgotten, as well as the respect and legacy for the generations that will follow.” Foley concurs with this statement.
A short history of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy – an indelible reminder of unceded sovereignty
Readers who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander should be aware that this page contains the names and photographs of deceased persons. When most people think of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, they think of something momentous that took place in the 1970s. However, it should be remembered as the location of the world’s longest-running demonstration in support of Indigenous land rights, sovereignty, and self-determination. As a matter of fact, the Tent Embassy will commemorate its 50th anniversary of continuous occupation this year.
As we mark the 40th anniversary of the Tent Embassy’s construction in 1972, it’s important to recall how it came to be, what it has stood for since then, and the significance it continues to have today.
Aliens in our own land
The Tent Embassy officially opened its doors to the public on January 26, 1972. A group of people led by Michael Anderson, Billy Craigie, Bertie Williams, and Tony Coorey set off from Redfern and drove to Ngunnawal Country (Canberra), where they set up a beach umbrella in front of Parliament House (now known as Old Parliament House). They constructed a sign that said “Aboriginal Embassy” to mark the location. On that particular day, they were accompanied by their driver, Tribune photographer Noel Hazard, who photographed the entire incident in a sequence of photographs.
- Australia’s National Museum is located in Canberra.
- Aboriginal people were the only cultural group that did not have an embassy representing them as a group or as an individual.
- It was originally intended that they would be protesting for land rights in response to the then-prime minister William McMahon’s speech, which dismissed any hope for Aboriginal land rights and re-affirmed the government’s position on assimilation.
- As a result, the Tent Embassy served as a public demonstration of our opposition to and disapproval of the policies and actions of the administration.
- More information may be found at: Why the Australian government should pay attention to Torres Strait Islanders’ views on global warming.
Demands of protesters
During the time of the Tent Embassy’s erection, police officers patrolling the area approached the protestors and inquired about their activities outside Parliament House. They stated that they were demonstrating and that they would continue to do so until the government provided Aboriginal people land rights. According to reports, the cops answered by saying, “That may take awhile.” As it turned out, camping on the grounds of Parliament House was not against the law, and the police were unable to remove the campers.
- The demands were unambiguously about our rights as Aboriginal people to our ancestral grounds, regardless of the fact that cities had been created on the land or that mining firms were interested in the resources contained inside.
- There were also calls for the protection of our holy sites, which were heard.
- The Tent Embassy received extensive support from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and allies from around the continent, and perhaps the world, during its construction.
- In addition to Foley and Isabel Coe, John Newfong, Chicka Dixon, Gordon Briscoe, and a host of other Aboriginal militants, the embassy was home to a number of other activists.
More information may be found at: The Yoo-rrook Justice Commission, which investigates everything from dispossession to massacres, sets a new standard for truth-telling.
Forced removal and revival
In order to avoid being reminded that Aboriginal people were seeking rights, the federal government changed the Trespass on Commonwealth Lands Ordinance to make camping on the lawn of Parliament House illegal. The police were given the right to remove the demonstrators as a result of this. When authorities sought to forcefully remove the embassy, the ordinance had only been in effect for a few hours. They did so in the midst of a rousing shout of “land rights now” from the audience. The result was a violent confrontation with the cops.
- A few months later, the Coalition government led by McMahon was defeated by Labor in the federal election held in December of 1972.
- As caught in the iconic photograph by Merv Bishop of Whitlam, who was pouring dirt into Vincent Lingiari’s hand, this was a watershed moment in Australian history.
- Land rights have not yet been realized in their entirety across the continent.
- During the following years, it relocated to a number of various locations around Canberra, including the site of the current Parliament building.
- Eleven years later, a large portion of the Tent Embassy was destroyed by fire, which authorities believe was the result of an arson attack.
An enduring symbol of protest
As a reminder of the recurrent failures of succeeding administrations to fulfill the demands for justice symbolized by the embassy and its people, the Tent Embassy still stands today on the grounds of Old Parliament House. During a protest on Australia Day at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the lawns of Old Parliament House in 2018, a smoking ritual was held as part of the demonstration. Mick Tsikas/AAPAsFoley muses on the embassy’s history, which he describes as follows: To the fact that it has persisted for decades as a striking symbol of Aboriginal people’s rejection to accept the hypocrisy, dishonesty, and duplicity of successive Australian governments is a monument to their reluctance to surrender defeat in a 200-year battle for justice.
The Aboriginal Tent Embassy is a significant accomplishment that highlights the persistence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, as well as our continuous struggle for the restoration of our lands and the recognition of our sovereign rights as First Nations people.
The history of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy
It was on Australia Day in 1972 that the Aboriginal Tent Embassy was established in order to protest the decision by the McMahon Liberal government to reject a proposal for Aboriginal Land Rights rights. Instead, the government intended to create a lease system, which would be conditioned on Indigenous people’s capacity to make economic and social use of the land, and would exclude rights to mineral and forestry resources from the equation. Four Indigenous activists – Michael Anderson, Billy Craigie, Bertie Williams, and Tony Coorey – put up a demonstration beneath a beach umbrella on the grounds of Parliament House at 1.00 a.m.
- The campaign gathered momentum swiftly, with more and more tents being constructed and the number of participants reaching 2,000 at one point in time.
- In the wake of a series of conflicts between demonstrators and police, the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court declared on September 12, 1972, that the employment of trespass laws could not be justified.
- It was re-established in 1974 and stayed in place until campaigner Charles Perkins negotiated its removal in 1976, prior to the passage of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, which resulted in the re-establishment of the site.
- Over time, the embassy has evolved beyond its original mandate of land rights advocacy to become a focal point for the broader Indigenous movement.
- Furthermore, it has been a subject of controversy, having been referred to be an eyesore by officials from the various federal governments, and has faced down proposals for a more permanent building somewhere in the capital.
- In 2012, protestors commemorating the 40th anniversary of the first riots invaded a restaurant where Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott were attending a reception.
- Ms Abbott made certain remarks that enraged the demonstrators because they were taken to mean that Mr Abbott was asking for the evacuation of the Tent Embassy.
Activists at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the lawns of Old Parliament House
It was taken on the lawns of (Old) Parliament House in Canberra in 1974, and it is a black-and-white shot of activists in the Aboriginal Tent Embassy there.
Placards are propped up against a canvas tent, and a few guys stand in front of the tent in this shot. An Aboriginal flag is being waved by one of the men.
- The Aboriginal Tent Embassy, which was built up on the lawns of Parliament House on Australia Day in 1972 when the McMahon coalition government refused to recognize indigenous land rights, is depicted in this image. Before becoming a permanent presence in 1992, the embassy had only existed on a temporary basis. By taking direct action in support of Aboriginal rights, the embassy led to the development of a politically autonomous Aboriginal rights movement. The Tent Embassy encampment was meant to symbolize the living circumstances of many Aboriginal people in Australia. However, according to activist Gary Foley, the term ’embassy’ was chosen with deliberate irony to refer to the fact that ‘Aborigines are treated like aliens in their own land’
- The 1967 referendum had enabled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be counted in the Census for the purposes of the Federal Government. The focus of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander activists soon turned to land rights, notably in the Northern Territory, where mining firms sought access to traditional areas for their operations. When the embassy helped put land rights on the political agenda, one sign in the shot alludes to a land claim filed by a group of Larrakia people for Kulaluk, a stretch of coastal territory near Darwin, which is depicted on the placard. The demand for a treaty by the Larrakia people was denied by the Australian government. Other posters express dissatisfaction with the Australian government’s reluctance to recognize Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as a distinct people, to grant them land rights, or to compensate them for land losses. In 1972, despite the fact that ‘land rights’ was the major platform of the embassy, themes of self-determination and sovereignty began to take on more significance. Another banner alludes to the suspension of Aboriginal public worker Charles Perkins. Mr. Perkins had been suspended for alleged unethical behavior following comments he made about the Liberal–Country Party administration in Western Australia, which he described as “racist” and “redneck.” Barrie Dexter, the Secretary (head) of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, is also mentioned on the placard. The demonstration in front of the tent embassy took place on February 28, 1974, to coincide with the visit of Queen Elizabeth II, who was in Australia to open the 28th session of the Australian Parliament on that day. On this occasion, demonstrators expressed their displeasure over the suspension of Aboriginal leader Charles Perkins from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, as well as their support for land rights. Approximately 400 protestors, including members of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the general public, participated in the rally, according to a media article. One guy in this shot is holding an Aboriginal flag. Several other designs were tried out by the initial Tent Embassy demonstrators before settling on the black, red and yellow flag made by Aboriginal artist Harold Thomas. When the Australian Government declared the flag to be the official ‘Flag of Australia’ in 1995, many Aboriginal activists were inspired by, and embraced, the symbolism of Black Power, a wing of the American civil rights movement that originated in the 1960s. The clinched Black Power fist salute is being given by the individual on the right side of the shot. Furthermore, the individual wears a ‘Afro’ hairdo, which in the United States signified African-American pride
- The location of the Tent Embassy has come to signify the political struggle of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. According to the Australian Heritage Commission, the embassy was designated as a place of particular significance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in 1995 and was added to the National Estate in 1996.
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Aims of Tent Embassy remain as relevant today as they were 40 years ago (2012 Media Release)
The Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra, which will be 40 years old tomorrow, played a significant role in raising awareness of and strengthening commitment to protecting the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia, according to Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda, who made the announcement today. Mr Gooda highlighted the value of the early activists’ efforts as he spoke ahead of the 40th anniversary of the first ‘Aboriginal Tent Embassy’, which was set up beneath a beach umbrella on the grounds of Parliament House on the 26th of January 1972.
- These early campaigners’ efforts helped to galvanize support and commitment to overcome a number of critical challenges facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at the time, including land rights, health and housing.
- “The first Aboriginal Tent Embassy brought together Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from all around Australia,” Mr Gooda said, adding that it served as a “seedbed” for more recent movements to enhance access to justice, education, and equal rights for indigenous peoples.
- As they have worked to make self-determination the dominant feature in discussions about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander matters, they acknowledge that there is still more work to be done.
- Louise McDermott may be reached at (02) 9284 9851 or 0419 258 597 for media inquiries.
The Aboriginal Tent Embassy
It will be 40 years tomorrow since the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra was established. Since then, it has played a significant role in raising awareness and strengthening commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s rights in Australia, according to Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda. Mr Gooda highlighted the value of the early campaigners’ efforts as he spoke ahead of the 40th anniversary of the first ‘Aboriginal Tent Embassy’, which was set up beneath a beach umbrella on the grounds of Parliament House on the 26th of January, 1972.
Unfortunately, these challenges are still as relevant and urgent today as they were 40 years ago.
‘The legacy left by these and other early civil rights campaigns has been to bring the very genuine problems of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to the forefront of Australian politics,’ Mr Gooda explained.
Louise McDermott may be reached at (02) 9284 9851 or 0419 258 597 for media enquiries.
A Nation Within a Nation
During the Coalition Government’s refusal to recognize Indigenous people’s land rights in 1972, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy was formed. It has been woven into Canberra’s physical and political environment since its birth, merging black politics with symbolism and drama in a way that its opponents have found impossible to rebut. The first time Charles “Chicka” Dixon heard famed Aboriginal campaigner Jack Pattens speak was in May 1946, when he was an 18-year-old thin blackfella celebrating his 18th birthday.
- “This large guy got to his feet.
- “It scared the very daylights out of me,” the small Dixon recalls.
- Earlier in 1937, he helped to found the New South Wales branch of the Aborigines Progressive Association.
- Following the meeting, Dixon spoke with Patten.
- It’s time to fight.
- He said that if you do, you should constantly keep two things in mind.
- Never, ever attack a politician; instead, employ a politician wherever possible.
In his subsequent remarks, he stated that we should establish an Aboriginal mission station in front of this white man’s Parliament House.
It happened in the year 1972.
Since then, Dixon has been actively involved in politics.
Later in life, while working for the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, he forged an unbreakable friendship with Charles Perkins and got involved in the movement to amend the Australian Constitution.
They would no longer be considered endangered under the Flora and Fauna Act, and they would be eligible to vote and be counted in the census as such.
Initial excitement was quickly overtaken by disappointment as successive federal administrations failed to live up to the spirit of the reforms that had been promised.
That represents a significant amount of frustration.” We had high hopes that fantastic things would transpire.
In particular, land rights were a source of worry because previous court decisions had failed to explain the government’s position.
Initially a conflict about industrial relations, the attention rapidly switched to the issue of land rights.
The Supreme Court of the Northern Territory maintained the notion of terra nullius, which is Latin for “land of no one,” in its decision.
A government pronouncement on land rights had been slated for the day before Australia Day in 1972, and Aboriginal campaigners had been waiting with bated breath for the announcement.
He recommended general purpose leases rather than land rights as a substitute for property rights.
Local Kooris gathered in East Sydney to devise a strategy for dealing with the situation.
In addition, both the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations and the Freedom Rides demonstrated the need of direct action.
“That night, four tiny Kooris boarded a plane for Canberra.
It had been the coldest winter in 38 years, according to the locals.
“It was bitter to the extreme.” Dixon took a bus down to the embassy the next Friday and was shocked to see that the government had not sought to detach the embassy from its location.
“He informed me that you had discovered a loophole in their legislation.
Nobody could have imagined that they would be camped in the nation’s capital.
We created portfolios for ourselves.
“Aboriginal Tent Embassy workers only, please no parking,” we wrote in the gutter of the building.
The mere act of affixing the term Embassy on a tent could only be accomplished in the nation’s capital, and the government took exception to this symbolic gesture.
However, many Aboriginals were already under the impression that Australia was divided along racial lines.
“We saw ourselves as a country within a nation,” says the author.
And all embassies were required to fly a flag.” The first flag to be flown was a tricolor of black, green, and red.
This past July, the Embassy displayed the more typical black, red, and yellow flag made by Aboriginal artist Harold Thomas, which had previously taken pride of place.
A little more than six months after the establishment of the Tent Embassy, the Federal Government submitted the laws necessary to outlaw camping on Commonwealth grounds in the capital city.
The tents were removed three days later, on the 23rd of July, and replaced by indigenous people.
After the third time, a week later, the government withdrew its support.
“We were able to demonstrate our argument.” It was then re-established and operated until February 1975, when Charles Perkins and the Minister for the Australian Capital Territory reached an agreement to have it decommissioned and dismantled.
More than a half-dozen more Embassies have been created around the country at various times to advocate for indigenous rights.
Due to its temporary presence in the former Parliament House, this embassy drew a great deal of attention and curiosity.
Others merely turned a blind eye in the hope that the embassy would go away on its own accord.
The Embassy was the only site in the country where Aboriginal people’s political struggle was officially recognized.
“There was a purpose to the street battle.
My wife used to get fed up with me getting arrested all the time.
“That’s exactly what’s required.
So you can direct all of your issues into the Canberra arena, and if that doesn’t work, you can direct them into the United Nations arena.
They may have an advantage in terms of schooling, but they will not have an advantage in terms of lobbying.
And I’m still attempting to accomplish this.
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