Embassy backers call for tolerance

Darren Coyne (Issue 1552) 20 June 2012

Aboriginal activists are calling for a more tolerant approach from police and governments towards the growing number of Aboriginal tent embassies that have sprung up across the nation. The United Nations has been informed of raids in Western Australia; court action is being considered in Queensland; and a protest was held outside New South Wales Parliament just last month.

The NSW protest, organised by the Indigenous Social Justice Association, called for an end to the over-zealous policing of embassies.

ISJA president Ray Jackson cited recent actions against campaigners at Musgrave Park in Queensland on May 16, and repeated raids on the Nyoongar Tent Embassy on Heirisson Island in Perth.

As well, more than 150 police were sent to James Price Point near Broome on May 21 to ensure protesters at the Walmadan Tent Embassy were unable to prevent Woodside equipment being moved to the site of a proposed gas hub.

In the lead up to the rally, Mr Jackson issued a statement condemning the actions of police.

"They were peacefully camped on their traditional lands and holding constructive talks about what action would be required to have the relevant state governments to accept their right to locate a permanent sovereign embassy on their own lands, among other rights," he said.

"That right has been accepted and won for the Tent Embassy in the ACT and it is our view that there must be granted by state and territory governments that permanent sovereign embassies be located in each capital city and/or any other designated location as chosen by the traditional owners.

"This is our right on our invaded lands ... our mobs were faced with the same intractable violence from the state and their police forces.

"This extreme and over-zealous reply is, of course, nothing new to our people. These hate campaigns against us have continued for over 224 years and will continue until we are fully recognised as being sovereign peoples and equal to the invader-governments of the stolen lands."

Wayne "Coco" Wharton, one of more than 30 people arrested at Musgrave Park during the dawn raid on 16 May, told the Koori Mail newspaper that complaints had been lodged with the Crime and Misconduct Commission about the actions of police.

"We're also meeting with lawyers to work out how we will pursue our defence of protecting our sacred site under the Queensland Cultural Heritage legislation," he said. "We notified each of those police that they were in breach of cultural heritage laws."

After 200 police had dismantled the Aboriginal embassy, protestors marched on Parliament House. Indigenous leader Sam Watson, who attended a subsequent meeting with Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, told the Koori Mail it had been agreed to shift the embassy to another section of the park.

A smaller group of protesters continues to camp at the new site.

Mr Watson said negotiations were continuing to establish a permanent cultural centre in Musgrave Park, but in the interim Jagara Hall would be utilised more by the Aboriginal community.

Mr Watson said the Indigenous community was excited at the prospect of formal ownership over the site.

"For the first time our connection, our right to have a say in the way in which this park is used, has finally been acknowledged by the authorities," he said.

Mr Watson said the council had agreed to construct a plaque at the original tent embassy site where an ancient bora ring (a ritual area) was once located.

He said a barrier would also be erected around the site, with a June 29 meeting planned to allow a working group to move forward with the plans.


Meanwhile, the Aboriginal sovereignty movement led by Michael Anderson, the last surviving founder of the Tent Embassy in Canberra, called on the United Nations to send peacekeepers to protect them against "increasing aggression by the Australian authorities".

"We have already put the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, on notice that we are in need of UN peacekeepers as the Australian authorities are increasing their aggression against our sovereignty movement," Mr Anderson said in a statement approved by Aboriginal people resisting the gas hub at James Price Point in Western Australia.

Mr Anderson said all the embassies that had been set up across the country were being harassed by local authorities.

He said the camps were established to "make a vocal statement about the atrocity of the nature of the proposed Woodside gas hub on the pristine land and sea ecology, and defend the rights of Aboriginal people and locals to have a say in the future of the state of the environment in the Kimberley".

"Police have been intimidating and harassing local families and their supporters by deregistering cars suspected of having involvement with the Walmandany Embassy, and have been performing additional drug and alcohol testing on them," Mr Anderson said.

"The 'protestors' are generally concerned local residents, mothers, fathers and families who believe that the proposed gas hub will have a tragic impact on the Kimberley environment."

Koori Mail

Police and Aboriginal activists negotiate at Musgrave Park in Brisbane after officers moved in on 16 May. (Photo by Naomi Moran)