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The beginning of the Tent Embassy in 1972

Aboriginal Tent Embassy 30th Anniversary

On January 26th 2002 the Aboriginal tent embassy in Canberra (Australia's capital) celebrated its thirtieth anniversary - making it the longest running protest camp in the world (that SchNEWS knows of).

A ten day 'Festival of Living Lore' was held in celebration of earth culture with workshops, storytelling, dancing, yummy grub, music, indigenous culture, earth-lore, singing, poetry, earth, magic, action, sacred fire and dreaming. People from all over Australia, both indigenous and non-indigenous, converged on the embassy to join the celebrations.

A Black History

"It is thirty years today since the embassy was put up in 1972 when four people come down from Redfern (Sydney), Billie Craigie, Tony Kurrim, Michael Anderson and Bert Williams, and they put up an umbrella on the lawns, and the umbrella grew into tents. We maintained the site there for about 6 months. [Then] in the early hours of the morning the police moved in and that was the start of the first protest on this site. And it was the first time ever in the history of Australia, that there was a violent confrontation on the lawns of Parliament House. It was the first time ever that Aboriginal peoples, stories about Aboriginal sovereignty went out to the rest of the world. Now we've been fighting here for 30 years." Isabel Coe.

At the time the embassy was first established it was opposite the front steps of Australia's parliament house where it couldn't be ignored (parliament moved to a new building further up the road in 1988). Since then many hard fought rights have been achieved, despite the camp infrastructure having been destroyed several times over the years by police, but a constant vigil has been maintained throughout. The tent embassy is an enduring symbol of the struggle of the Aboriginal people.

During the commemoration elders announced:

"We, the Aboriginal people and nations of this land, now known as Australia, hereby declare our original and continuing sovereignty over our lands and waters. Aboriginal sovereignty has never been extinguished. It has merely been impeded, by the use of violence, by the first fleet of British boat people in 1788 and those who followed. We hereby reclaim our sovereignty, our inherent right to be governed by our own laws, in harmony with the land to which we belong. We are taking our rightful place in our ancestral lands, which are our birthright, our sacred inheritance, handed down from generation to generation since time immemorial from the beginning.

We invite representatives of the colonising government. to come to the fire for peace and justice at the Aboriginal tent embassy and listen to the elders about continuing violation of the laws of this land."

But the tent embassy now faces the its biggest threat yet: the federal government are hoping to replace the thirty year old autonomous zone outside their old seat of power with a bit of polished marble across the park they're calling 'Reconciliation Place'. Already the national heritage listing bestowed on the tent embassy in 1983 for unique cultural and political value has been transferred from the tent embassy to the new shrine, a "white mans monument to a black mans tombstone".

After thirty years of struggle, the tent embassy is still serves as a major platform for the voices of Aboriginal Australia. There is still a long way to go until the rights of the first nation peoples of Australia are recognised and this 214 year long war is ended. Like the rising of the Moon and the Sun, so shall the Aboriginal nations of Australia rise up!

thanks to Bilbo & Belle