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Aboriginal Embassy Site, King George Tce, Parkes, ACT, Australia

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List Register of the National Estate (Non-statutory archive)
Class Indigenous
Legal Status Registered (11/08/1987)
Place ID 18843
Place File No 8/01/000/0421
Statement of Significance
Amendments made by Australian Heritage Council, 20 February 2006.
From the moment of its inception in 1972, the Aboriginal Embassy Site has been the focus for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's political struggle for land rights, sovereignty, autonomy, equality and self government. The Aboriginal Embassy Site is also important as a place that has focused international attention on these political activities. It is therefore significant in the history of Aboriginal political culture. The first recorded Aboriginal political protest at the site was made during the opening of Parliament House in 1927 by Jimmy Clements (also known by many other names including King Billy, King of Canberra, and King of the Orange Tribe) (Criterion A.4). The Aboriginal Embassy Site is unique because it is the only Aboriginal site in Australia that is recognised nationally as a site representing political struggle for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The site of the Embassy also has significance for the local Aboriginal community because it was used in the past as a meeting and gathering ground. As such it represents part of the traditional way of life of the local Aboriginal community (Criterion B.2). The Aboriginal Embassy Site reflects a major turning point in the efforts made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for nationwide land rights and sovereignty. It provides a National focus, bringing many groups together in a place they chose themselves. It is a tangible statement by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to the Australia Government and all Australian people. Therefore, it is important as a site that is representative of the history of the interaction between the indigenous and non-indigenous peoples of Australia. The infrastructure presently on the site has been designed in such a way as to reflect both past and present Aboriginal living conditions. The design and on-site structures are continually changing to meet the needs of both residents and visitors (Criterion C.2). The Aboriginal Embassy Site is important as a National meeting ground for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from many different communities. It is a place where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people share knowledge about dance, language, music, culture and history. It is a place where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people find family and friends and where they can be educated about Aboriginal political history. It is therefore highly valued by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for symbolic, cultural, political, educational and social associations (Criterion G.1).  The Aboriginal flag, created by Harold Thomas in 1971, was flown together with a flag designed for the embassy by John Newfong during the 1972 protest action.  Designed to be an eye-catching rallying symbol for Aboriginal people, the flag is now universally recognised as representing a national Aboriginal identity.  The Aboriginal Embassy Site is also important because of its association with many Aboriginal activists who were engaged in the political struggle that took place at the site. The importance of these early activists has been recognised by the memorial service for Kevin Gilbert being held there and the scattering of his ashes in the Fire for Justice which is located within the Aboriginal Embassy Site (Criterion H.1).
Official Values Not Available
Archaeological and historical evidence has shown that the area was traditionally used by Aboriginal people as a gathering and meeting ground. A number of artefacts, including scrapers, points, an axehead and a boomerang, were uncovered during the construction of Parliament House and the lawns. The first recorded Aboriginal protest took place at the site by Jimmy Clements during the opening of Parliament House in 1927. Jimmy's presence at the opening was a political act. He made a point of being there on behalf of his people. To the north of the Embassy buildings is the park area used for meetings and visitor camping. To the west is a second fireplace in which were cast the ashes of the poet Kevin Gilbert. This Fire for Justice is frequently relit and should not be disturbed. Many people and organisations have been involved in activities centred around the Embassy Site since its inception. The Aboriginal Embassy Site presently has on it a core camp, a varying number of additional tents, a mail box, a flag and mast and a camping and meeting area. The site is a living place. There is a cooking fire around which people gather. A site shed serves as an information and resource centre and keeps paperwork and photographs dry.
Added by Australian Heritage Council 20 February 2006.
On 26 January 1972 in the early hours of the morning, four young Aboriginal activists set-up a beach umbrella and a sign on the lawns of Parliament House – and the Aboriginal Tent Embassy was created.  The events and processes that gave rise to this event can be considered in terms of three separate, but interconnecting themes:
·       Early Aboriginal political activism, leading to the 1967 referendum
·       Aboriginal land rights pre-1972
·       The Australian Black Power movement
In 1972, the ideas, activities and energy expressed in each of these themes came together, creating fertile ground for direct protest action in response to Prime Minister McMahon’s Australia Day speech. 
The events of 1972 and more recent activities at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy site can also be described in terms of three ‘waves’ of action:
·       Wave 1 – the Aboriginal Tent Embassy
·       Wave 2 – 1972 - 1992
·       Wave 3 – 1992 to present
Aboriginal protest and citizenship, leading to the 1967 referendum
Aboriginal people have long resisted and protested against European settlement of their country, and the dispossession that it brought.  Early Aboriginal protest action tended to focus on personal concerns, such as civil rights and prior rights to land, generally at a local or regional level[1].  While the emphasis on Aboriginal rights changed over time, with civil rights gaining prominence from the 1930’s to the 1960’s, rights to land has always been an issue of concern. 
The earliest Aboriginal protest can be traced to the mid 1840s at Van Diemans Land, focused on living conditions.  Forms of protest action during this early period included letters, petitions, appeals to other sources of authority (e.g. the Queen), and strike action (e.g. at Coranderrk during the 1870s and 1880s) (Attwood et al, 1999:9-11).  The protests usually focused upon local needs, rather than the interests and rights of others.
From the 1920s there was a marked rise in Aboriginal activism and an increasing politicisation of Aboriginal affairs.  In the 1920s – 1930s, under a government policy of ‘protection’ and then ‘assimilation’, Aboriginal people were largely excluded from the nation and citizenship, disenfranchised, and subject to restrictions on their daily lives (Cultural Heritage Centre for Asia and the Pacific (CHCAP), 2003:34).  As part of a growing social awareness of people’s rights, Aboriginal political protest organisations were set-up at a state and later national level[2], aimed at ending discrimination, seeking full citizenship and improving administration of Aboriginal affairs (CHCAP, 2003:34).  Most of these organisations were dominated by white membership, a characteristic later challenged by Aboriginal activists.  An exception was the all-Aboriginal Australian Aborigines League established in Melbourne, Victoria 1936. 
These organisations largely campaigned by writing letters and forming delegations to politicians, and the imperial monarch (Attwood et al, 1999:14).  Protest actions during this period included a petition to King George V (not forwarded by the government) calling for the establishment of special electorates for Aborigines in federal parliament; and the Day of Mourning, Sydney on 26 January 1938.  Organized in response to the sesquicentenary celebrations, this protest called for new policies for Aboriginal affairs, with full citizenship status for Aboriginal people and rights to land.  While the influence on government of these Aboriginal political organisations in this period was negligible, their actions illustrate the beginnings of a national-level political activism for indigenous rights, and an early expression of the claims for democratic recognition and inclusion (CHCAP, 2003:34). 
A significant development in the post-war era was the founding of a national organisation in 1958 – the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI).  It became an important voice in national Aboriginal politics, and was a multi-racial organisation with Aboriginal leaders (Attwood et al, 1999:19).   FCAATSI made a major contribution to the campaign leading to the 1967 constitutional referendum, and was also active in advocating for federal voting rights for Aborigines (Horton, 1994, 359-360).  As a result of pressure from FCAATSI and other Aboriginal organisations, several legislative measures were implemented to improve the rights of Aboriginal people in the 1950s and 60s, such as the right to vote in Commonwealth elections (1962); the extension of welfare benefits to all but ‘nomadic or primitive’ Aborigines in most states; and equal pay (1965) (CHCAP, 2003:37). 
Land rights took a less prominent role in Aboriginal politics during the post-war period, re-emerging in the early 1960s as a major focus for political action, often with support from unions and other organisations.  Examples of this include the Yirrkala bark petition by the Yolgnu people of Arnhem Land, Northern Territory in protest of mining on their land (CHCAP, 2003:37); actions taken at Lake Tyers in Victoria in 1963 to retain Aboriginal ownership of an Aboriginal cooperative farm (Robinson, 1993:13), and the Wave Hill walk-off, Northern Territory in 1966 (Australian Heritage Database). 
Change was also occurring during the 1950s – 1960s in Aboriginal consciousness and identity.  Through national conferences, increased opportunities for networking and improved communication between Aboriginal people across Australia, a stronger sense of a common national group was developing – Aboriginal Australians - who shared a historical experience of oppression, yet who also shared a culture (Attwood, et al, 1999:20).  These changes together with the advent of Black Power consciousness were to impact the policies and aims of Aboriginal organisations.
One of the most significant advancements of the 1960s was the 1967 Referendum. With an overwhelming ‘yes’ vote, the referendum gave the Commonwealth power to legislate for Aboriginal people (potentially over-ruling State arrangements) and count them in the census.  While this did not lead to immediate change, this action, together with the creation of an Aboriginal Affairs portfolio in 1968 and the early land rights protests in the Northern Territory, brought the struggle for Indigenous rights onto the national agenda (CHCAP, 2003:37-38), setting the stage for the 1972 events. 
The early land rights movement
Aboriginal people’s struggle for land dates back to at least the late 1800s (if not from the time of European arrival), with local communities fighting to be granted lands, or to retain lands that had been previously reserved for their use (Attwood et al, 1999:30). The concepts of compensation, prior occupation of and rights to traditional land, and the need for land to provide an economic base - themes of the 1972 protest action - underpinned Aboriginal people’s fight for land from the 1800s [3], although their expression varied in the decades prior to 1972 (Goodall, 1996:84).  While most of these actions were taken at a local level by communities or individuals, over time a common Aboriginal interest in these issues emerged that was wider than a single language group. 
During the 1920s – 1950s, it appears that the land rights issue was relocated from a short-term demand to a long-term goal, as civil rights became the focus of attention (Goodall, 1996:239).  It did not disappear from the agenda, however.  In 1925, for example, the Australian Aborigines Progressive Association sent a petition to the NSW Premier calling for land, as an economic base and as compensation for dispossession, to ‘restore to use that share of our country of which we should never have been deprived’ (Goodall, 1996:162).  By the 1950s, pressure was building for the re-emergence of land issues into the centre of the political stage.
In 1963 the Yolngu people of Gove Peninsula, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, took action to protest the Commonwealth Government’s proposed excision of land from Yirrkala Reserve to allow bauxite mining.  Following a parliamentary visit, community members sent a bark petition to parliament seeking recognition of their title to the land (Morphy, 2000:100-101).  Although a special Committee of Inquiry was established, the Government did not implement its recommendations.  In 1969 the Yolngu sought to challenge the doctrine of ‘terra nullius’ and prove they had owned their land ‘since time immemorial’, taking legal action against Nabalco (mining company) and the Commonwealth Government (Attwood et al, 1999:173). The judgement found that although there was a spiritual connection between the people and land, there was no economic relationship that could validate the land claim (Goodall, 1996:337).  The Yirrkala bark petition is seen by many to mark the beginning of the ‘land rights movement’ and place land rights on the agenda of south-east Australian organisations[4].
Claims for land were being pursued elsewhere in the Northern Territory at this time. In 1965 the Arbitration Commission ruled to grant equal pay to Aboriginal pastoral workers in the Northern Territory, although not to commence until 1968 (Australian Heritage Database).  In 1966, Aboriginal stock workers from a number of cattle stations, including Wave Hill station, walked off these stations and went on strike in protest of unequal wages and poor employment conditions (Attwood et al, 1999:173).  New camps were set-up in a range of places, including Wattie Creek (Daguragu), an area to which people had traditional rights (Central and Northern Land Council, 1991).  By October the action had transformed into a claim for land, attracting considerable interest and support elsewhere in Australia.  In 1975 Prime Minister Gough Whitlam promised the return of title of these lands to the traditional owners under the Commonwealth powers gained from the Referendum. This was finalized in 1986 with the hand back of Gurindji land as Daguragu Aboriginal Land Trust under the Aboriginal Land Rights Northern Territory Act 1976 (Cth). 
Both the Yolngu bark petition and Wave Hill walk off are viewed by many as significant events in the struggle for land rights (Attwood et al, 1999:173), bringing a demand for legal recognition of Aboriginal people’s traditional rights and connections to country into the national arena, in part through the involvement of the Commonwealth Government.  These events also contributed to the development of a national Aboriginal identity, as people across Australia joined in a common cause for land rights (CHCAP, 2003:37-8). 
In 1966 the first land rights legislation was passed in South Australia, marking an important step in the recognition of Aboriginal land rights, and formal inclusion in Australian democracy (CHCAP, 2003:38).  Debate over land rights intensified in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the introduction of Black Power philosophies to Aboriginal politics at this time played a role in focusing political attention on land as a means to economic independence and advancement (discussed further below).  The FCAATSI ran a national campaign in 1968 in support of land rights for Aborigines all over Australia, drawing connections between the alienation of land in both settled and remote Australia (Attwood et al, 1999:172).  In 1970 the Aboriginal Advancement League took their call for rights to the international arena, petitioning the United Nations for the return of all land and compensation.
Against the backdrop of an increasingly national Aboriginal political movement and growing demand for recognition of Aboriginal people’s rights to land, it was perhaps inevitable that Prime Minister McMahon’s 1972 speech would elicit a strong and vigorous response. 
Indigenous self-determination and the Australian Black Power Movement
The Aboriginal Tent Embassy can be viewed as an expression of self-determination, as Aboriginal people chose to take control of their own destiny, and directly demand change.   The protest was ‘masterminded’ by members of the Australian Black Power movement, and later considered by some to be one of their most significant achievements. 
In the mid to late 1960s a new approach to Aboriginal political activism started to emerge, drawing on the ideology of the Black Power movement in the United States of America (USA) and South Africa with its emphasis on black pride, self-determination and separatism (Robinson, 1993:21-22).  These ideas filtered to Australia indirectly through media coverage and literature; and more directly through contacts with black activists in the USA (refer Jennett, 1980 for further detail).  An early expression of the Black Power ideals in Australia was the 1965 Freedom Ride.  Led by Charles Perkins through country towns in northern NSW, this action aimed at exposing racism and discrimination (Robinson, 1993:33-34; Foley, 2001:4).
One of the arenas of debate about Black Power philosophies was the Aboriginal advancement organisations, previously dominated by white members. While the Aboriginal Advancement League (Victoria) adopted the principle of black power in an Australian context in 1969, a split emerged within FCAATSI over who should have power to determine policy. In 1970 a breakaway organisation was set up - the National Tribal Council, with Aboriginal activists Kath Walker and Doug Nicholls as prominent members (Jennett, 1980:11-13).  The advancement organisations tended to adopt a reformist approach to change, in contrast to the more immediate and far-reaching change being sought by the newer radical Aboriginal activists.  The Australian Black Panther Party, established in 1972, was one response to the call for a more direct form of action, with its call to arms, among other demands (Robinson, 1993:28).
As change was sweeping through such organisations, a loose coalition of young Indigenous activists was also forming in the urban centres of Redfern (NSW), Fitzroy (Victoria) and South Brisbane (Queensland).  Their political philosophy centered on Indigenous self-determination and economic independence, to be achieved through land rights (Foley, 2001). 
Of particular significance to the 1972 events in Canberra was the rise of the black power movement in NSW.  A significant migration of young Aboriginal people from country NSW to the city occurred in the 1960s, and a strong sense of community developed in Redfern, Sydney.  There was much discussion of black power ideals, and young Aboriginal people set about raising their level of political consciousness, and taking action (Robinson, 1993 and Foley, 2001 provide a more detailed description of these days).  One expression of self-determination was the establishment of a number of community services, operated by and for Aboriginal people.  Key among these were the Breakfast Program, the Aboriginal Legal Service and the Aboriginal Medical Service (Robinson, 1993:22).  An element of more radical Aboriginal activism emerged, and protests during the early 1970s focused on direct action - demonstrations, marches and peaceful sit-ins (refer Foley, 2001:10 for further detail and examples). 
The Australian Black Power movement was arguably at its peak by the end of 1971, and the activists were poised for further action.
By the end of 1971, many of the citizenship rights that had been fought for over the last 50 years had been gained, and Aboriginal political protest was increasingly focused on land as a means of gaining economic independence and improving living conditions.  There was a greater sense of belonging to an ‘Aboriginal Australia’, with its own unique culture, and an entitlement to the land to which people belonged, and that had been taken away by Europeans.  With the 1967 Referendum, the Commonwealth government now had the ability to recognise the uniqueness of Aboriginal culture heritage and people’s relationships with country, and legislate on behalf of Aborigines across Australia.  As a result of court decisions such as Nabalco (Yolngu people), some Aboriginal activists believed that new laws were necessary to deliver the rights that they sought, rather than relying upon the reform of existing legislation and structures.  Embracing the ideals of black pride and self-determination, some Aboriginal activists were primed for political action of a greater magnitude than previously witnessed.  Each of these ‘threads’ wove together and set the stage for the Aboriginal Tent Embassy protest action.
In his Australia Day statement on 25 January 1972, the Prime Minister William McMahon announced a new form of general purpose lease for land on Aboriginal reserves (excluding existing missions, reserves and crown land), valid for fifty years and conditional upon Aboriginal people’s ‘intention and ability to make reasonable economic and social use of land’ and which would ‘exclude all mineral and forest rights’ (Horton, 1994:1062).
‘Outraged’ by the announcement, a group of Aboriginal activists met in Sydney to decide their respond.  Ideas had been circulating for some months about a symbolic protest, and a suggestion had been made that an ‘embassy’ was one way to achieve this.  A vigil was immediately established outside the NSW Parliament (Goodall, 1996:338), however it was decided that more direct action was needed.  With a high degree of spontaneity, Tribune photographer Noel Hazard drove four protesters to Canberra.  Arriving late in the evening, the protesters initially stopped at the home of an Australian National University lecturer, and were offered materials and a beach umbrella.  In the early hours of the morning, the beach umbrella and a sign announcing the protest as an ‘embassy’ were set up on the lawns of Parliament House (Robinson, 1993:93-94) – and the Aboriginal Embassy was born.
Michael Anderson was a prominent public figure in the early days of the demonstration, dressed in black and wearing a Black Power badge.  In his first public statement, he made a demand for land rights, emphasising the original dispossession of Aboriginal people and the Embassy’s opposition to the Gove mining proposal.  In a second statement, it was announced that the Embassy would remain on the lawns in protest until the policy statement by the government was retracted and land rights granted; a demand for compensation was also made.  A comprehensive statement of demands was issued by the Aboriginal Embassy Cabinet Committee on 6 February – a five point plan for land rights:
Full State rights to the Northern Territory under Aboriginal ownership and control with all titles to minerals etc.
Ownership of all other reserves and settlements throughout Australia with all titles to minerals and mining rights.
The preservation of all scared lands not included in Points 1 and 2.
Ownership of certain areas of certain cities with all titles to minerals and mining rights.
As compensation, an initial payment of 6 billion dollars for all other land throughout Australia plus a percentage of the gross national income per annum.
(Aboriginal Embassy, Canberra.  Information sheet, 1972).
Numbers grew as news of the embassy traveled through Aboriginal organisations and communities.  The embassy became a small camp with supporters from Victoria and Queensland, and in April it consisted of eight tents.  The first flag flown at the embassy was a black, green and red flag, known as the International Black Liberation flag (Garvey flag) (Dow, 2000:2 from Canberra Times, 2 Feb 1972).  A second flag was designed by John Newfong in early February 1972, specifically for the embassy.  It consisted of a spear laid across a red and black background with four crescents looking inward.  According to Newfong, the design of his flag was inspired by the increasing consciousness amongst urban Aborigines of the need to retain their cultural identity.  The four crescents represented Aboriginal people in conference and the spearhead represented Aboriginal resistance (Atkins, 2003:5). The information sheet from the embassy described it as depicting a tchringa, four men seated in conference around a campfire, a spearhead and the colours were those of a bark painting – brown, black and yellow (Information Sheet, 1972)[5]. The protest attracted support from many quarters, including Australian National University students, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and other non-Indigenous people (Robinson, 1993:97), and drew gestures of support from other Aboriginal people across Australia.  In the early days, a group of representatives from Yirrkala and Elcho, Melville and Bathurst islands, in Canberra for talks, identified themselves to the Embassy.  This served to enhance the sense of pan-Aboriginal support for the protest, and as Yunupingu recalled ‘Everyone heard’ of the Embassy in remote areas (Robinson, 1993:103).  In July, busloads of Aborigines came from Queensland and South Australia, although many elders in more remote areas (e.g. Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia) were opposed to further protest, fearing that the violence that was a feature of clashes between police and protesters might lead to a loss of lives (Robinson, 1993:160).  People had said they were willing to die to defend the Embassy (Robinson, 1993:160).  The violence led to fresh support from many white Australians, and a high media profile.  During the first six months of its existence, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy gained national and international media coverage, including print media and television; and a number of publications were written by and for Aboriginal people (Robinson, 1993:120-121).
In a visit to the embassy during the initial protest days, the leader of the Opposition, Gough Whitlam, expressed support for Aboriginal land rights and other components of the embassy’s ‘five point’ plan.  These events assisted in shaping Labor’s policy on Indigenous issues: following their election win in 1972 Labor went on to establish an Aboriginal Land Rights Commission in 1973.  This led to the first legislation allowing a claim of title if claimants could show evidence of their traditional association with land - the Aboriginal Land Rights Northern Territory Act 1976 (Cth). 
A full description of the events at the Embassy during this time can be found in Robinson (1993); while Dow (2000) provides a chronology of the key events at and relating to the embassy from the its establishment until 2000.  A summary of the key actions in 1972 is provided below.

22 February
60 protesters attended a rally outside Parliament House calling for land rights (Parliament in session)
11 May
The Minister for the Interior announces the Governments’ intention to bring in an Ordinance to ‘fill a need in relation to the law regarding trespass on Commonwealth lands in Canberra’, making it an offence to camp on such land within the city.
20 July
The amended Trespass on Commonwealth Lands Ordinance is gazetted.
Between 60-150 police remove tents, and there are violent actions between policy and approximately 70 Aboriginal people and students.  Eight people are arrested in a confrontation, and there are injuries on both sides. 
23 July
A meeting is held between Department of Interior officials and Aboriginal Tent Embassy representatives; representatives indicate they were determined to make their protest in strong terms but were prepared to reach an understanding with police to avoid violence.  The Department refuses permission to re-erect the tents.
Two hundred people try to re-establish the embassy tents, in the presence of 360 police.  Eighteen people were arrested, with injuries on both sides.  It was described by one participant as ‘one of the most violent confrontations in the history of Canberra’. 
27 July
The Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts refuses to meet a delegation of ATE representatives, who then send a telegram to the Prime Minister asking him to intervene.
30 July
Two thousand people march to Parliament House and the embassy is re-erected.  A standoff ensued; with peaceful protest and the later removal of tents by police. 
16 August
Four Aboriginal women chain themselves to the rails of the front step of parliament, removed by police with bolt-cutters.
12 September
The Trespass on Commonwealth Lands Ordinance was judged not to be in effect by the ACT Supreme Court. 
The Aboriginal Tent Embassy was re-erected.  A Bill to restore the ordinance retrospectively was passed; the ordinance was re-gazetted and the tents were removed the following morning.
The protest action concluded on 12 September 1972 with the passing of the Tresspass on Commonwealth Lands Ordinance. The activists regarded the peaceful standoff and subsequent removal of tents on the 30 July 1972 as a ‘great moral victory’ for the movement, and Foley has argued that it represented the political high point for advocates of Black Power (Foley, 2001:13).  Aboriginal activists focused on the democratic process for the remainder of 1972.
WAVE 2 –1972 TO 1992  
Over the next twenty years various Indigenous protest actions were undertaken at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, and the embassy was re-established at this site on at least one occasion (and possibly more).  The focus of protest actions over this time broadened to encompass a range of Indigenous interests.  On 30 October 1974, the embassy was re-established by the Organisation of Aboriginal Unity and a sit-in was staged both at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA) and on the steps of Parliament House, demanding Aboriginal control of DAA and widening the term of the reference of the Woodward inquiry on land rights (Dow, 2000:11).  The embassy remained until 13 February 1975 when Charles Perkins and the Minister for the Capital Territory negotiated its removal for two months, in which time the Government would be given a chance to ‘do something positive about land rights not only for tribal Aboriginals but also for urban Aboriginals’.  On 26 January 1982, the old Aboriginal embassy tent was briefly and symbolically re-erected (held up by hand) on the lawns as part of a commemoration event (No author, 1982:2).
The Aboriginal Embassy was also set up in other locations in Canberra (e.g. Red Hill, 1976; Capital Hill, 1979; Grevillea Park, 1991) (Dow, 2000) to protest on issues such as funding cutbacks, the threatened abolition of the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee, Aboriginal sovereignty, a bill of rights, and reconciliation legislation.  The concept of an Aboriginal tent embassy as a means of taking protest action on issues such as Aboriginal housing, land rights and self-determination was also applied in other parts of the country (refer Attachment 1 for a list of other Aboriginal embassies).  
In August 1987 the Parliament House Vista was entered in the Register of the National Estate, incorporating the site on which the Aboriginal Tent Embassy was situated. 

WAVE 3 – 1992 TO PRESENT  
The Aboriginal Tent Embassy has retained strong associations with many Indigenous people as an Aboriginal ‘embassy’ representing the interests of Aboriginal people in Australia, and as a place of protest on political issues.  On the 20th anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, the embassy was re-established and sixty protesters occupied Old Parliament House, largely vacant.  Voicing concern that Aboriginal affairs were starting to stagnate, representatives presented the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Affairs with the Declaration of Aboriginal Sovereignty, earlier sent to the United Nations and foreign embassies.  Protesters were removed from Old Parliament House and four arrested; the arrest was organised so that claims for sovereignty and land rights could be heard by the courts (Dow, 2000:14).  One hundred protesters marched from the embassy to the courts; however attempts to obtain a stay of proceedings so that the International Court of Justice could hear the issue of sovereignty were unsuccessful.   In September 1993 over 600 representatives at a national meeting on native title legislation chose to congregate at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and march to new Parliament House to protest against the extinguishment of land title that the new legislation heralded. 
In April 1995 the Aboriginal Tent Embassy itself was listed on the Register of the National Estate.  A ceremony marking the listing was attended by many Aboriginal activists connected with the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. 
In 1998, the Sacred Fire for Peace and Justice was lit, and has been burning almost continuously since 1998 (it was initially extinguished).
Since its re-establishment, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy has been the focus of various activities, including:
Protest action on issues such as ATSIC budget cuts (1996); Jabiluka uranium mine (1998); applications to arrest federal parliamentarians on genocide charges (1998);
As a base for protest action at new Parliament House and the Governor-General’s residence (1999);
Memorial services (Kevin Gilbert, Black Allen, Billy Craigie) and other ceremonies (e.g.: marriages; a Cleansing Healing and Blessing Ceremony 1999).
An annual Corroboree for Sovereignty on 26 January.
The Aboriginal Tent Embassy continues to present an image of Indigenous Australia that challenges both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Certain structures have been erected and removed amidst controversy while fires have destroyed structures and tents. In 2003 a study was commissioned by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) to examine future options for the Aboriginal Tent Embassy site (Brisbane City Enterprises, 2003), and further consultation with the some of the original activists has also been undertaken.
Attachment 1
Aboriginal tent embassies established in Australia (not an exhaustive list)
June 1972
A tent embassy was set up outside the Western Australian state parliament remaining until the state government agreed to commit $3m to Aboriginal housing projects.
Horton (1994: 1062-3)
An Aboriginal Parliament tent was pitched outside Parliament in Hobart, Tasmania in relation to the Aboriginal Land Claim petition
Kirk (n.d)
An Aboriginal tent embassy was erected at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, Sydney to draw attention to the ‘Aboriginal struggle for land rights and self-determination’ during the Commonwealth Games. 
Dow (2000:13)
August 1991.
An embassy was set up in Grevillea Park, Canberra by the ‘Sovereign Aboriginal Congress’.  Delegates rejected the reconciliation legislation just passed.
Dow (2000:13).
early 1992
An Aboriginal Tent Embassy was set up in Queens Park, Brisbane, aiming to raise awareness of Indigenous issues and provide support for the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra.  Key focus on protesting native title legislation in Queensland.  Media coverage in Courier Mail.  Embassy started with single tent then grew, constant presence, lasted for approximately 6 weeks.  Ended with a march on Parliament House during Parliament sittings; Aboriginal people were excluded. 
Shane Coghill, pers. com. 22/3/2005.
July - August 2000
A fire for peace and justice was lit and an Aboriginal Tent Embassy set up in Victoria Park, Sydney to raise awareness of the political issues of Indigenous Australians (coinciding with the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games).  Specifically, the struggle for sovereignty, recognition of Aboriginal law and land rights, and the struggle against unacknowledged acts of genocide.
ENIAR, 2002
Bichard, 2002
No author, 2000
August 2001
The Aboriginal Tent Embassy apparently set up an office in the Hague, the Nederlands.  This was part of a delegation to the Hague to initiate world court action.  As part of this visit, it is also reported that an Aboriginal embassy was set up in Ireland for the recognition of Aboriginal sovereignty.
ENIAR, 2002
An Aboriginal tent embassy was set up again in Victoria Park, Sydney. 
ENIAR, 2002
2002 - 2004
An Aboriginal embassy was set up at Lake Cowal.
Neville Williams (2005)
May 2004
An Aboriginal tent embassy was set up again in Victoria Park, Sydney, linked to the investigations into the death of T.J. Hickey at Redfern.  The embassy ended in c. August following negotiations with Sydney City Council and Lord Mayor Clover Moore.
ENIAR, 2002
November 2004
An Aboriginal tent embassy was established at Shell Cove Marina site, south of Wollongong, to monitor activities surrounding the Shell Cove development.  Embassy spokesperson expressed particular concern about consultation processes and protocols.
ABC Radio News, 8/11/2004

[1] Note that Attwood et al (1999:9-10) suggest that early demands were couched in terms of a widely held political language of the time, in two forms which were often used at the same time. Some Aborigines legitimized their call for change on historical grounds, by reference to their prior occupation of the land, demanding land and other rights on the basis of that Aboriginality.  In other instances, people called for equal rights as human beings, with no reference to history (also refer discussion by Goodall, 1996).
[2] The oldest active organisation, the Association for the Protection of Native Races, was formed in 1911, focusing its efforts on Aborigines after 1927.  There were also small humanitarian organisations, the first of these founded in 1858, which had an emphasis on Aboriginal protection and uplift (Attwood et al, 1999:15).
[3] Note that Goodall has challenged the views of other researchers, who have suggested that it was not until the early 1960’s that claims for ownership, use and access to land shifted from the ideal of rights for Aborigines as Australian citizens (ie: a concept of equality) to that of Aboriginal rights, as the Aboriginal people of Australia (ie: a concept of ‘proprietary rights and entitlement to land).  See for example Attwood et al (1999:20). 
[4] This view is challenged by others, such as Goodall (1996: 308-309) .
[5] note however that Dow says that it symbolises the black rights struggle from the four corners of Australia (Dow, 2002:5). 
Condition and Integrity
The site contains much integrity as a living site. It is a dynamic site which is continually evolving and changing to cater to the needs of the Aboriginal people who visit and who live there.
About 1.5ha, opposite the main entrance to the Old Parliament House, King George Terrace, Parkes, comprising that part of Block 1 Section 58 bounded on the north-east by a line parallel to King George Terrace and 100m north-east of that terrace.
Aboriginal Embassy, Canberra.  1972  Information sheet (held by Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies).
Atkinson, W.  2004  “Reconciliation & land justice: you can't have one without the other' - reflections on the future directions of the Yorta Yorta land claim’, Journal of Australian Indigenous Issues, 7(2), p.24-28.
Attwood, B. and A. Markus  1999  The struggle for Aboriginal rights: A documentary history, Allen and Unwin.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)  2001  Timelines – the big picture, Four Corners (
Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)  2004 Canberra ABC Radio News, 8 November 2004.
Australian Heritage Database, Department of Environment and Heritage (searched 2005).
Bandler, F.  1972  comment in article in The Bulletin, 5 August 1972.
Bichard, V. (Director)  2002  ‘Fire of the Land’, Australia (
Bindon, P. 1973. Surface campsite collections from the ACT. AIAS Newsletter VOL.3, NO.6.

Bluett, W. P.  1954  The Aboriginals of the CBR District at the arrival of the white man, Paper read to the CBR and District Historical Society, 29th May 1954.
Brisbane City Enterprises Pty Ltd in association with the Mirii Centre  2003  Review of the future of the Aborginal Tent Embassy, Canberra, Report to the Queanbeyan Regional Council, ATSIC.
Cassidy, D.  n.d.  1965 Freedom Ride (www.
Cavadini, A. 1972. N'Ingla A-Na. Australian Film Institute.

Central and Northern Land Council  1991  ‘From little things, big things grow’, Land Rights News, 2(23) (
Clack, P.  Canberra Times, 17 February 2002.
Coulthard-Clark, C. D.  1988 ‘The Aborigines who came to the opening of the first Parliament House’, Canberra Historical Journal, 21, pp.26-27.
Cowan, G.  2004  ‘Nomadic Resistance: Tent Embassies and collapsible architecture.  Illegal architecture and protest’,  (
Cultural Heritage Centre for Asia and the Pacific, Deakin University (CHCAP) 2004  Creating an Australian democracy, Report prepared for the Department of Environment and Heritage.
Curthoys, A. 2002 ‘The Freedom Ride – its significance today’, a public lecture by Prof. A. Curthoys at the National Museum of Australia, 4 September 2002. 
Dow, C.  2000  ‘Aboriginal Tent Embassy: Icon or eyesore ?  Chronology 3 1999-2000’, Social Policy Group, Department of the Parliamentary Library.
ENIAR  2002  Aboriginal Tent Embassy – the Hague Consulate Declaration, 2001 (
Flood, J. 1980. The Moth Hunters. AIAS

Flood, J. 1990. The Riches of Ancient Australia: A Journey Into Prehistory. University of QLD Press.

Foley, G.  1999  article in Koori Mail, 8 September 1999.
Foley, G.  2001 Black Power in Redfern 1968 – 1972, The Koori History Website (
Fulton, C.  1985  ‘Tassie’,  Aboriginal Law Bulletin, Aboriginal Law Research Unit, 16 October 1985, p.5.
Goodall, H.  1996  Invasion to Embassy: Land in Aboriginal Politics in NSW, 1770-1972, Allen & Unwin in association with Black Books.
Gillespie, L.  1984  Aborigines of the Canberra Region, Canberra, CBR Publishing and Printing Co.
Gilbert, K. 1973. Because a White Man'll Never Do It. Angus & Roberts

Gilbert, K. Being Sovereign. Audio Tape.

Gilbert, K. 1988. Aboriginal Sovereignty, Justice, the Law and Land. Canberra Treaty, 1988.

Gilbert, K. 1994. Wintercamp: Aboriginal Tent Embassy. Black From The Edge. Kevin Gilbert Memorial Trust.

Grattan, M.  1972  political correspondent, The Age.  22 July 1972.
Harris, S. 1979  It's Coming Yet: An Aboriginal treaty within Australia between Australians. Griffin Press, Ltd.

Hefner, R.  1987a   ‘Who was that masked man’ ? Canberra Times, 13 December 1987.
Hefner, R.  1987b   ‘The masked man was King Billy, but was he alone ?’ Canberra Times, 27 December 1987.
Horton, D.  (ed) 1994  Encylopedia of Aboriginal Australia: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, society and culture,  Aboriginal Studies Press, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra, p. 1062-3.
Jennett, C.  1980  ‘Ethnic politics: Aboriginal black power and land rights movement of the 70s’, Australasian Political Studies Association annual conference, 1980. 
Kaus, D.  1995  Jimmy Clements and John Noble at the opening of Parliament House in 1927, information sheet, National Museum of Australia.
Kirk, M.  ‘Land Rights in Tasmania’, Aboriginal Treaty Committee Papers  (
Langton, M. (ed) After the Tent Embassy, Images of Aboriginal history in black and white photographs. Valadon Publishing.
McNiven, L. Community of Thieves. Film.
Moss, H. P.  1939  ‘Evidences of stone age occupation of the Australian Capital Territory’, Report of the 24th meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science, Canberra, 24.
Morphy, H.  2000  ‘Art and politics: The Bark Petition and the Barunga Statement’, in S. Kleinert, M. Neale and R. Bancroft (eds) The Oxford Companion to Aboriginal art and culture’, Oxford University Press.
Muir, K.  (Marnta Media Pty Ltd) 2003  Scoping an approach to identifying national heritage significance for sites associated with recognizing Indigenous rights, Report to the Australian Heritage Commission.
Nakano- Jackson, A.  n.d.  Indigenous representation at Parliament House, notes on RNE file. 
Nakano- Jackson, A.  1996  ‘Of King Billy and Marvellous’, The Canberra Times, 5 June 1996, p.12
National Native Title Tribunal  2003  ‘Some key developments in native title case law since ‘Mabo (no. 2)’, Studies in Western Australian history, 23, p.19-26.
No author  1982  ‘The same old “Embassy” tent goes up again’, Aboriginal Treaty News, 4(2).
No author, 2000  Indigenous Law Bulletin, 5(1), p.17-18.
No author,  n.d.  Black Station, A4 pamphlet (possibly produced by Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre) (held by Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies).
Peters, F. 1992 Tent Embassy ABC Aboriginal Programs Unit.

Robinson, R.  1957  ‘Mr Wallaby – related to Roland Robinson by Bob Andy at Wallaga Lake’, Dawn, 6(12), p.22-23.
Robinson, S.  1993  The Aboriginal Embassy, 1972.  Thesis submitted for the degree of Master of Arts (History), Australian National University.
Robinson, S. 1994. The Aboriginal Embassy: An Account of the Protests of 1972,  Aboriginal History Vol. 18 No.1
Smith, S.  1992  Mum Shirl – an autobiography, 2nd. Edition, Mammoth Publishing, Port Melbourne.
Sydney Filmakers Co-op 1989  Ningla a-na hungry for our land [film] 1 videocassette (VHS) (46 min.).  A shorter version of the 75 min 1972 original release ... edited by Mark McAuliffe, June 1989.
Wigmore, L.  1963  The long view, F. W. Cheshire Pty Ltd.  (later republished  in 1972 as Canberra: history of Australia’s national capital).

Personal communications
Maluga, Trudi  State Secretary, Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre.  6 December 2004.
Hughes, Colin  Tasmanian Aboriginal Land Council.  7 December 2004.
Shane Coghill, Queensland.  22 March 2005.

Argus (Melbourne) 10 May 1927  Article on opening of Parliament House.
Canberra Times, 26 July 1997  Article in relation to the marriage of Rose and Arthur Kirby at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy site.
Canberra ACT Radio News, 8 November 2004.
Canberra Times, 17 February 2009.
Koori Mail, 9 February 2005, p.27.
Leader, 25 May 1912 relating to Nangar’s presence at Empire Day in Orange.
The Bulletin, 5 August 1972.
The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 February 1999.

Report Produced  Thu Feb 11 08:52:18 2016