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50th Anniversary of Aboriginal Tent Embassy - Message from HOAA

I would like to pay tribute that this year is the 50th year that the Aboriginal tent embassy in Canberra has existed, and has been powerful focus of land rights, sovereignty and self-determination for Aboriginal people across Australia.

Fifty years ago on Australia Day a small group of Aboriginal protesters drove from Redfern to Ngunnawal Country in Canberra. They were part of the Black Power movement in Sydney and were responding to the refusal of the federal government to recognise Aboriginal land rights.

Michael Anderson, Billy Craigie, Bertie Williams and Tony Coorey planted a beach umbrella in the lawn opposite Parliament House (now old Parliament House) and erected a sign that said simply “Aboriginal Embassy”. This powerfully communicated that Aboriginal people had never ceded sovereignty nor engaged in any treaty process with the Crown.

Rapidly gathering support, the embassy grew and was joined by Aboriginal people from across Australia. Police removed the Embassy a number of times in 1972 but the Embassy came back stronger with more and more people joining protests.

The Tent Embassy played a vital part in gaining land rights. Gary Foley has called it the “most effective political action in the history of the Aboriginal struggle”. 

A small act of erecting a beach umbrella with a sign on a lawn in our nation’s capital has become the longest protest for Aboriginal land rights in the world.

On this January 26, I pay respect to all those who started the Tent Embassy and all those who have ensured the continuation of this strong commitment to our sovereign rights and self-determination.

Lil Gordon
Head of Aboriginal Affairs

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