The Aboriginal Tent Embassy is a semi-permanent assemblage where residing activists claim to represent the political rights of Aboriginal Australians. It is made up of signs and tents on the lawn opposite Old Parliament House in Canberra, the Australian capital. It is not considered an official embassy by the Australian Government.
On 26 January 1972, four Aboriginal men (Michael Anderson, Billy Craigie, Tony Coorey and Bertie Williams) arrived in Canberra from Sydney to establish the Aboriginal Embassy by planting a beach umbrella on the lawn in front of Parliament House (now Old Parliament House). The Embassy was established in response to the McMahon Coalition Government's refusal to recognise Aboriginal land rights. McMahon instead favoured a new general purpose lease for Aboriginal people which would be conditional upon their 'intention and ability to make reasonable economic and social use of land' and it would exclude all rights they had to minerals and forestry.
The beach umbrella was soon replaced by several tents and Aboriginal people and non-indigenous supporters came from all parts of Australia to join the protest. During the first six months of its life in 1972 the Embassy succeeded in uniting Aboriginal people throughout Australia in demanding uniform national land rights and mobilised widespread non-indigenous support for their struggle. Other people associated with the Embassy demonstration in 1972 include Paul Coe, Gary Foley, Chicka Dixon, Gary Williams, John Newfong, Sam Watson, Pearl Gibbs, Roberta Sykes, Alana Doolan, Cheryl Buchannan, Pat Eatock, Kevin Gilbert, Denis Walker, Isobelle Coe and Shirley Smith.
In February 1972 the Aboriginal Tent Embassy presented a list of demands to Parliament:
The demands were rejected, and in July 1972, following an amendment to the relevant ordinance, police moved in, removed the tents and arrested eight people.
In October 1973, around 70 Aboriginal protesters staged a sit-in on the steps of Parliament House and the Tent Embassy was re-established. The sit-in ended when Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam agreed to meet with protesters.
In May 1974 the embassy was destroyed in a storm but was re-established in October.
In February 1975 Aboriginal activist Charles Perkins negotiated the "temporary" removal of the embassy with the Government, pending Government action on land rights. The Fraser Government subsequently enacted the Aboriginal Land Rights Act in 1976, after its drafting by the Whitlam Labor Government in 1975.
On the twentieth anniversary of its founding, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy was re-established on the lawns of Old Parliament House. Despite being a continual source of controversy, with many calls for its removal, it has existed on the site since that time.
As well as political pressure, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy has also been under attack from criminal elements, having been fire bombed on a number of occasions.
Despite this, in 1995 the site of the Tent Embassy was added to the Australian Register of the National Estate as the only Aboriginal site in Australia that is recognised nationally as a site representing political struggle for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
In the leadup to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Isobell Coe from the Wiradjuri Nation set up a Peace Camp and combined ashes from Canberra's sacred fire to the fire at Victoria Park in Camperdown to promote reconciliation. This sacred fire was originally made by Kevin Buzzacott and lit by Wiradjuri man Paul Coe at the Canberra Tent Embassy in 1998.
There have been a number of suspicious fires at the site, with the most devastating being the loss of 31 years of records when the container burnt down in June 2003.
In August 2005, the Federal Government announced a review into Canberra's Aboriginal tent embassy. They consulted with the Aboriginal communities around Australia to determine what shape the tent embassy should take in future. The group was headed by Minister Jim Lloyd and contained a number of Aboriginal Elders from around Australia. Professional mediators Callum Campbell and Tom Stodulka were called in to facilitate the process and consult with indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, to obtain and represent their views. This organisation was called Mutual Mediations. They reached a decision on the Embassy's future early in December 2005.
On 26 January 2012 Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott were attending an event at the Lobby Restaurant when the site was surrounded by protesters who had arrived from the nearby Tent Embassy. The protesters were angry at comments Abbott had made in an ABC interview that morning. Gillard and Abbott were hastily escorted from the restaurant under the protection of police officers and during the scramble Gillard lost one of her shoes, which was collected by protesters although later returned to her.
The following lists events that happened during 1972 in Australia.Australia Day 2012 protests
The Australia Day Protests of 2012 began with a commemoration at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra to mark its 40th Anniversary and culminated in a security scare which saw the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader of Australia escorted from a nearby Canberra venue amidst rowdy protesters. The protesters had been advised of the leaders' whereabouts and misinformed of a statement by the opposition leader in relation to the Tent Embassy by a union official who had received information about Abbott's statement and whereabouts from the prime minister's office.
Gillard and Abbott were temporarily trapped when around 100 protesters surrounded the venue. The security scare made international headlines and saw Prime Minister Julia Gillard stumble and lose her shoe as she was carried by a body guard to her car.Australian Aboriginal Flag
The Australian Aboriginal Flag represents Aboriginal Australians. It is one of the official flags of Australia, and holds special legal and political status. It is often flown together with the national flag and with the Torres Strait Islander Flag, which is also an official flag of Australia.
The Australian Aboriginal Flag was designed in 1971 by Aboriginal artist Harold Thomas, who is descended from the Luritja people of Central Australia and holds intellectual property rights to the flag's design. The flag was originally designed for the land rights movement, and it became a symbol of the Aboriginal people of Australia.
The flag's width is 1.5 times its height. It is horizontally divided into a black region (above) and a red region (below). A yellow disc is superimposed over the centre of the flag.Australian Aboriginal Sovereignty
Australian Aboriginal Sovereignty is a political movement amongst Indigenous Australians and supported by others in the 20th and 21st centuries, demanding control of parts of Australia by indigenous peoples. Aboriginal sovereignty is not recognised by the Australian legal system.As is the case in many other countries where native people were displaced by European settlers, such as New Zealand, the United States and Canada, the issue is complicated and controversial.Initially, the British afforded very little recognition of Aboriginal customs and laws. In 1840, all Governors in Australia and New Zealand were directed that all Aboriginal customary law was to be superseded by British law.In 1972, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy was established on the steps of Old Parliament House in Canberra, the Australian capital, to demand sovereignty for the Aboriginal peoples. The protest has remained in place for over forty years. Demands of the Tent Embassy have included land rights and mineral rights to Aboriginal lands, legal and political control of the Northern Territory, and compensation for land stolen.
Many public events in Australia, including ceremonies, speeches, conferences and festivals, begin with a Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country. Welcomes to Country are made by Elders of the Aboriginal nation on whose traditional lands each event is taking place. Welcomes to Country can be relatively long, and are often spoken in full in both English and the language of the respective Aboriginal nation. (Sometimes an interpreter is required to translate the Elder's language into English for the English-speaking audience present.) Acknowledgements of Country are more common, and are typically made at the beginning of a speech or an event by a speaker who is not of the requisite Aboriginal nation. Acknowledgements of Country are usually only one or two sentences long, and simply ask those present to acknowledge the fact that they are on the traditional lands of a particular Aboriginal nation.
Notable proponents of Aboriginal sovereignty included Charles Perkins and Gary Foley.Chicka Dixon
Charles "Chicka" Dixon (5 May 1928 – 10 March 2010) was an Australian Aboriginal activist and leader.
He was active in campaigns around the 1994 referendum and the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, dedicating his life to the fight for basic human rights and justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
In 1970 Dixon was instrumental in establishing Australia's first Aboriginal Legal Service in Redfern; he co-founded the Tent Embassy in Canberra in 1972. He was the first Aboriginal person to be appointed as a Councillor on the Australia Council and is a former Chairman of the Council's Aboriginal Arts Board. In 1983 Dixon was named the first Aboriginal of the Year.
Dixon attended his first political meeting on his 18th birthday in 1946. Inspired by Jack Patten, an organiser of the 1938 Day of Mourning and the Aborigines Progressive Association, he has been politically active ever since. During the 1960s he was spokesperson for the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.
In 1972 he travelled to China to highlight the Aboriginal struggle in an attempt to shame the Australian Government into action. Qantas would not fly the group, so Dixon found an airline that would.
In 2006 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters for his eminent service to the community by the University of New South Wales. During his seventies, he dealt with asbestos poisoning, a legacy from his working days on the Sydney docks as a wharfie.
On 5 November 2007, reports appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and Brisbane Times claiming Dixon had obtained 150 pages of his ASIO File. The files are, Dixon says, wildly inaccurate. Dixon joins activists Charles Perkins, Faith Bandler, Melbourne academic Gary Foley, author Michael Hyde and ABC's Phillip Adams in being among those who have obtained their ASIO files and openly spoken about their files in mainstream media. Part of Dixon's story can be read in the Brisbane Times article and listened to in an SMH multimedia clip, which shows images of the files themselves.Gary Foley
Gary Edward Foley (born 11 May 1950) is an Australian Aboriginal Gumbainggir activist, academic, writer and actor (he eschews Australian nationality). He is best known for his role in establishing the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra in 1972 and for establishing an Aboriginal Legal Service in Redfern in the 1970s. He also co-wrote and acted in the first indigenous Australian stage production, Basically Black..Isabel Coe
Isabel Edie Coe (1951 - 2012) was a Wiradjuri woman born at Erambie Mission near Cowra, and one of the most prominent Australian Aboriginal leaders.She had a lead role in the running of the original Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra, and was the lead litigant in Isabel Coe v the Commonwealth (1993), where she unsuccessfully tried to force the Australian government to recognise the sovereignty of the Wiradjuri nation. She was the sister of prominent activist Jenny Munro.Jenny Munro
Jenny Munro (born 1956) is an Australian Wiradjuri elder and a prominent activist for the rights of Indigenous Australians. She has been at the forefront of the fight for Aboriginal housing at The Block in Sydney, and started the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy. She is sister of the late Aboriginal activist, Isabel Coe.
She is an active member of the Waterloo Public Housing Action Group (WPHAG).John Newfong
John Newfong (3 November 1943 – 30 May 1999), Aboriginal Australian journalist, a descendant of the Ngugi people of Moreton Bay and writer, was the first Aboriginal person to be employed as a journalist in the mainstream print media.Newfong was born in Wynnum, a suburb of Brisbane, Queensland, in 1943. His father Ben "Archie" Archibald Nu Fong was a Queensland champion heavyweight boxer, and his mother Edna Crouch played in the Australian women's cricket team which played England in 1935. Newfong's family soon moved to North Stradbroke Island, but when Newfong was five, the family returned to Wynnum where he attended the local school, and later, Wynnum High School. After graduating, he wanted to study Law however entrance to university at the time would only allow Aborigines to undertake education degrees to become teachers; and only if they choose to teach in a community. He instead worked in Mount Isa as a miner in 1965 before returning to Brisbane to campaign for the 1967 Referendum. Later, he trained as a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper in Sydney.
Newfong was campaign secretary for the Queensland Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, the state affiliate of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) in the leadup to the 1967 Aboriginal referendum. He had joined the Queensland council in 1961, and was soon promoted to the federal council. Soon after the referendum, he was offered a job at The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, and later worked at The Australian. In 1970, he was elected as the general secretary of FCAATSI.
In 1972, Newfong was made the "chief spokesperson" for the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the lawns of Old Parliament House in Canberra, where his media contacts and experience in the Canberra press corps were crucial in establishing a public image for the embassy. Although he resided at the embassy from February until July and was quoted frequently in the Australian and overseas press, he is best remembered for his quote, "The Mission has come to town".
Later that year, he continued to work as a journalist, between 1972-1973 and 1979-1980 he was editor of Identity, an indigenous Australian magazine funded by the Aboriginal Publications Foundation. He was a board member of the Aboriginal Arts Advisory Committee between 1969-1970 and he a Board member of the Aboriginal Publications Foundation.
Newfong was one of the first people in the Aboriginal movement to realise the importance of international pressure on Australia, especially from the African nations. During the 1960s he was heavily influenced by overseas independence movements in removing colonial overrule. He was the only Aboriginal speaker at the Black Moratorium to speak specifically about the influence multinational corporations had on the Australian government in relation to Aboriginal policy.
Later, Newfong was the elected member for the South East Queensland/Brisbane metropolitan of the National Aboriginal Conference (NAC) in 1977, and was a member of its executive until 1979.
Newfong was the public relations director of the Aboriginal Medical Service in the Sydney suburb of Redfern. He also did public relations work for Channel Nine (Cyclone Tracey telephon), the Society for Crippled Children, National Aboriginal and Islander Health Organisation, and for the Aboriginal Development Commission. Writing in The Australian in 1986, Newfong defended Aboriginal legal services from attacks by the Police Federation of Australia, who criticised government funding for those services.
Professionally, Newfong experienced tremendous pressure from political allies such as Charles Perkins and Chicka Dixon to neglect its own interests to further the interests of Aboriginal people. This is demonstrated by his involvement in the 1972 Aboriginal tent embassy that marked the end of Newfong's full-time career in Australian journalism. His political activism also exposed him to jealousies within the Aboriginal movement that made him a target, particularly when seeking employment in media organisations throughout his working life. He was particularly mindful of the rise of professional class of Aboriginal leader that arose from within the new bureaucracies that emerged in the wake of the Commonwealth's formal entry into Aboriginal Affairs in the early 1970s. Despite these obstacles, Newfong continued to work as a specialist writer and commentator between 1981 until his death.
In 1993, Newfong was a lecturer at James Cook University in Townsville, where he taught journalism and media studies. The following year, Newfong was briefly Aboriginal policy officer for the Australian Medical Association in Canberra. He later worked as a speech writer for the NSW Government on Aboriginal issues. Until his death in 1999, Newfong lectured at various Australian universities on indigenous health and government relations.
In November 2018, he was inducted into Australias Media Hall of Fame.Juno Gemes
Judy Juno Gemes (born 1944) is a Hungarian-born Australian photographer, who specialises in photographs of Aboriginal Australians.Gemes was born in Budapest, and moved to Australia with her family in 1949. She studied at the University of Sydney and the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), worked in theatre and film, and worked in London sporadically in the late 1960s and 1970s, where she wrote for the London-based underground newspaper International Times. In 1971, she became involved with the Yellow House Artist Collective in Potts Point, Sydney.She began exhibiting her photography in Australia in 1966, and held her first solo exhibition, "We Wait No More", in 1982. Under Another Sky, Juno Gemes Photography 1968–1988, a survey of Gemes work from over twenty years was exhibited in Budapest and Paris in the late 1980s.In 2018, Gemes told The Sydney Morning Herald her reason for taking up photography: "It was because I saw that Aboriginal people were invisible that I took up the camera." Much of her work has documented the Aboriginal rights and land rights movements, from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy to 2008 when she was one of ten photographers selected to officially document the Apology to Australia's Indigenous peoples.Her partner is the Australian poet Robert Adamson.Kevin Buzzacott
Kevin Buzzacott (born 1947), often referred to as Uncle Kev as an Aboriginal elder, is an Indigenous Australian from the Arabunna nation in northern South Australia. He has campaigned widely for cultural recognition, justice and land rights for Aboriginal people, and has initiated and led numerous campaigns including against uranium mining at Olympic Dam, South Australia on Kokatha land and the exploitation of the water from the Great Artesian Basin.
He is affectionately known as 'Uncle Kev' and is respected by both Indigenous and Non-indigenous Australians for his ongoing efforts for protection of country, culture and spirit.Kevin Gilbert (author)
Kevin Gilbert (10 July 1933 – 1 April 1993) was a 20th century Indigenous Australian author, activist, artist, poet, playwright and printmaker. Kevin Gilbert, a Wiradjuri warrior, was born on the banks of the Kalara, Lachlan River. He was the first Aboriginal playwright, printmaker and author of the first political work on Aboriginal issues. He was an active Human Rights defender and was involved in the establishment of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1972 and its re-establishment on a permanent basis in 1992. In 1979 Kevin led the National Aboriginal Government protest on Capital Hill, Canberra. His vision for a continent with integrity led to him being Chair of the Treaty ’88 Campaign for a sovereign treaty between Aboriginal Nations and Peoples and non-Aboriginal Australians, as a proper foundation for all people living on this land now known as Australia. He defined the legal argument for a Treaty/Treaties and Aboriginal Sovereignty in Aboriginal Sovereignty, Justice, the Law and Land. He is also the winner of the 1978 National Book Council prize for writers for Living Black: Blacks Talk to Kevin Gilbert (1977).Matilda House (activist)
Matilda Williams House was born in 1945 on the Erambie (also spelt as Arambie) Aboriginal Reserve at Cowra, New South Wales (NSW), and raised in her grandfather’s house at Hollywood Aboriginal Reserve in Yass, NSW. When she was 12, House spent a year in Parramatta Girls' Home. House was one of ten children.
House identifies as belonging to the Ngambri-Ngunnawal family group (also referred to as Ngambri-Ngunnuwal family group), which has been formally recognised by the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government as having historical connections to the Canberra region and surrounds, particularly the region around Namadgi National Park. Black Harry Williams, also known as Ngoobra, House’s great-grandfather, and Harry Williams her grandfather, both identified as Ngambri.There remains a dispute over who 'rights to country' belong to in the ACT, with the ACT Government issuing formal protocols regarding recognition of the traditional owners of the land on which Canberra is located, in response to a request from the United Ngunnawal Elders Council.House returned to Canberra in 1963 and has been actively involved in Indigenous Affairs in the Canberra region since 1967.House is the Chair of the Ngambri Local Aboriginal Land Council in Queanbeyan, NSW, which she established with her brothers in 1984, and the Joint Chair of the Interim Namadgi National Park Committee. She assisted in establishing the Aboriginal Legal Service in the 1980s, and has continued more recently through her membership of the Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee.House has performed numerous welcoming ceremonies, including notably the first Welcome to Country to be held at the Australian Parliament at the opening of the 42nd Parliament of Australia.House has also served on the first ACT Heritage Council, the United Ngunnawal Elders Council, the Queanbeyan Regional Council of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), the Ngambri Local Aboriginal Land Council, the Tent Embassy Advisory Committee and the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Consultative Council. She has also acted as an ACT honorary ambassador.House's involvement in Indigenous Affairs led to her delivering the welcome at Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation's ‘Sea of Hands’ installation, and contributing to the 'Bringing Them Home' report into the Stolen Generations. She was also one of the original protestors who established the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1972.House was named Canberra Citizen of the Year by ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope MLA in 2006.Mum Shirl
Coleen Shirley Perry Smith AM MBE (22 November 1921 – 28 April 1998), better known as Mum Shirl, was a prominent Wiradjuri woman, social worker and humanitarian activist committed to justice and welfare of Aboriginal Australians. She was a founding member of the Aboriginal Legal Service, the Aboriginal Medical Service, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, the Aboriginal Children’s Service and the Aboriginal Housing Company in Redfern, a suburb of Sydney. During her lifetime she was recognised as an Australian National Living Treasure.Neville Williams
Neville "Chappy" Williams is an elder of the Wiradjuri Nation, in Western New South Wales. Known as "Uncle Chappy" to those who follow indigenous Australian customs, he is a regular at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra and a key opponent of the Barrick Gold Corporation's gold mine project at Lake Cowal. Barrick sold the Cowal Mine to Evolution Mining in 2015.Ngambri
Ngambri is an Aboriginal name for a locality in the south-east of Australia, near the centre of what is now Australia's capital city of Canberra. The area is close to Black Mountain along Sullivans Creek down to the Yeelamgigee, now Molonglo River. The extent of recognised Ngambri territory, and of their distinction from the Walgalu, has been the subject of controversy in recent years. Canberra, where Ngambri claims are made, lay close to the tribal boundaries that separated the Ngarigo from the Ngunawal.Parkes, Australian Capital Territory
Parkes (postcode: 2600) is an inner southern suburb of the Canberra Central district of Canberra, located within the Australian Capital Territory of Australia. Located south-east of the Canberra central business district, Parkes contains the Parliamentary Triangle and many of the national monuments of Australia's capital city.
Parkes is named in honour of Sir Henry Parkes, a Federalist, legislator and one of the founders of the Australian Constitution. Streets in Parkes are named after monarchs and constitutional references.Parkes contains many of Canberra's large institutions and contains no residential area.Pat Eatock
June Patricia "Pat" Eatock (14 December 1937 – 17 March 2015) was an Australian indigenous activist and academic.Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy
The Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy was a protest camp run by Aboriginal Australians in the inner-Sydney suburb of Redfern. Its aim is to keep an area of land known as The Block in Aboriginal hands, and to ensure the land is used solely for low-cost housing for Aboriginal people. It was started by Aboriginal elder, Jenny Munro, and was named after the original Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra.The organisers of the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy say they are defying the gentrification of Redfern, and describe the eviction of the Aboriginal people from the area as 'social cleansing'.