50 Years of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy

January 26 of this year marked the 50th anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra. The Aboriginal Tent Embassy stands on the lawns of Old Parliament House on Ngambri-Ngunnawal Country. It was started after the Australian government announced a new system that rejected independent ownership of traditional land in favour of a 50 year lease granted to Indigenous communities if they could demonstrate social and economic use for the land. (National Museum of Australia, 2022)

After the announcement from the Australian government, four men from Redfern in Sydney, Michael Anderson, Billy Craigie, Bertie Williams and Tony Coorey, drove to Canberra and set up a beach umbrella on the front lawns of Parliament house, now Old Parliament House. This was the start of many years of protest and grassroots campaigns. The Aboriginal Tent Embassy is the longest running protest site in the world and has operated in numerous locations around Parliament house before taking its permanent location in 1992. (National Museum of Australia, 2022)

Signs used at the Tent Embassy (National Museum of Australia, 2022)

The Aboriginal Tent Embassy has played a critical role in the history of the struggle for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples rights in Australia and is continuing on the movement that was mostly started by the Wave Hill Walk-Off. Six years before the Tent Embassy was the Wave Hill Walk-Off led by Vincent Lingiari, an important part of the fight for land rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in Australia when workers at Wave Hill station started striking. This strike action eventually led to the return of a portion of the Gurindji peoples land and land title claim legislation for First Nations peoples. (National Museum of Australia, 2022)

The embassy has been a place for holding protests and advocating for land rights for 50 years, and has the diplomatic function of supporting grassroots actions and the many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People visiting Canberra for government business. (National Museum of Australia, 2022)

Protesters and police in front of Parliament House in 1972, (National Museum of Australia)

On February 6th 1972, the tent embassy issued a list of demands to the Australian Government that focused on land rights issues. The demands were as follows:
Complete rights to the Northern Territory as a state within Australia and the installation of a primarily Aboriginal State Parliament
Ownership and mining rights of all other Aboriginal reserve lands in Australia
Preservation of all sacred sites in Australia
Ownership of areas in major cities, including the mining rights
Compensation for lands that were not able to be returned starting with $6 billion and including a percentage of the gross national income every year

The Aboriginal Tent Embassy is a symbol of protest against successive Australian governments and the ways that they have failed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. The most prominent issue that the embassy is publicising today is Aboriginal Sovereignty over the Australian continent and an acknowledgement of an Indigenous right to self-determination. (National Museum of Australia, 2022)