Aboriginal Tent Embassy

Undertaken by four young First Nations men from the east of the continent, the political action of 1972 witnessed the establishment of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy (Clark 2008) and recognition of the Aboriginal Flag. It was the first time the international media had noted the social and political struggle of Australia’s First Peoples. Initially. Police, ordered by the politicians to demolish the Embassy, caused violence by physically trying to evict First Peoples; unfortunately, journalists labelled First Peoples as ‘violent,’ not the police. When journalists added the term ‘radical’ to their descriptions of First Peoples present at the Embassy, rumours spread that those at the Embassy belonged to the outlawed Communist Party.

Further reports by Non-Indigenous journalists claimed that the Embassy people—our First Nations spokespeople—did not reflect the view of other First Nations Peoples. Journalism discredited First Nations political activists, urging both Non-Indigenous peoples and politically conservative First-Nations Peoples to be afraid of the activists and their ideas of social reform. In this way, at that time, public pedagogy advanced attempts to silence First Peoples from speaking out about our concerns.

As the residents of the Embassy were urban First Nations Peoples we were viewed as dangerous dissidents, enemies of the nation-state. Journalists and politicians were dismissive of the common political platform of First Nations Peoples never considering the transgenerational trauma which resulted from invasion and colonisation—depicting us as either ‘tame’ or ‘wild’—as a fearful animal or an animal to domesticate.

Although resistance began with the beginning of the invasion in 1788, the 1938 Day of Mourning (Attwood & Markus 2004; Horner 1994) is considered by historians as our first collective political action. Urban First Nations People from Sydney and Melbourne undertook the 1938 Day of Mourning. However, the bark petitions of the Yolngu people of Yirrkala, presented to the Commonwealth parliament in 1963 and 1968 (Bennett 1989, Clark 2008) were actions undertaken by Yolngu from Arnhem Land. The Gurindji strike that began in 1966 (Maynard 2007) was also political action isolated to the Gurindji peoples of the Northern Territory. The ten-year struggle to have the 1967 Referendum (Attwood et al. 1997) saw First Nations Peoples from more regions of the nation-state participate.

Arson attacks have damaged buildings within the Embassy (Foley, Schaap & Howell 2013), which is a symbol of First Peoples asserts concerning the indifference of successive governments. Due to advocacy by First Peoples in 1992; on the 20th anniversary of the original protests, the Embassy was permanently re-established on its original site on the lawns outside Old Parliament House. Listed on the Register of the National Estate in 1995, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy is the only site on the Register noted as crucial due to its political significance to First Nations. The Aboriginal Tent Embassy which flies the Aboriginal Flag will forever be a symbol of the struggles for equity and recognition of the Human, Citizenship, and Indigenous rights of Australia’s First Nations Peoples.



Attwood, B & Markus, A 2004, Thinking Black: William Cooper and the Australian Aborigines’ League, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra.

Attwood, B, Markus, A, Edwards, D & Schilling, K 1997, The 1967 Referendum, or When Aborigines Didn’t Get the Vote, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra.

Bennett, S 1989, Aborigines and Political Power, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.

Clark, J 2008, Aborigines & Activism: Race, Aborigines & the Coming of the Sixties to Australia, University of Western Australia Press, Perth.

Foley, G, Schaap, A & Howell, E 2013, The Aboriginal Tent Embassy: Sovereignty, Black Power, Land Rights and the State, Routledge, Melbourne.

Horner, J 1994 Bill Ferguson, Fighter for Aboriginal Freedom: A Biography, Dickson, Canberra.

Maynard, J 2007, Fight for Liberty, and Freedom: The Origins of Australian Aboriginal Activism, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra.

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