NAIDOC Week salutes importance of the Tent Embassy

This was first published on my personal blog.

If you haven’t heard it’s NAIDOC Week.  This important weeek reminds us that despite making some progress to-date, there’s still a long way ahead to make sure equality between Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous Australians exists.

This year’s NAIDOC Week  has the theme, Spirit of the Tent Embassy: 40 years on. With such a theme it is an opportune time to refocus energies for a fair and equal Australia. It’s also a particularly opportune time to refocus energies given the passage of the misleadingly named Stronger Futures legislation.

The Tent Embassy was established on 26 January 1972 when four men placed a beach umbrella into the lawn of Parliament House in Canberra in an iconic protest against the refusal to acknowledge Aboriginal land rights. This act represented for many a symbol of strength and defiance against injustice. The Tent Embassy’s protest on government policy, along with the Wave Hill walk off by the Gurindji people and the Gove land rights case of 1971, have been cornerstones in the history of the land rights movement in Australia. And of course we can’t forget the contributions of the Mabo case.

The Tent Embassy has maintained a presence in Canberra over the past 40 years and remains a powerful symbol for advocacy in Indigenous affairs. It provides a constant reminder to keep the challenges faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on the  political agenda and adds much needed visibility for equality and justice.

As Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda noted:

It is a symbol of struggle, of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ power as a people to protest for positive change and to reclaim the pride undermined by centuries of dispossession and discrimination.

It is vital we acknowledge the legitimacy of the discrimination, disempowerment and frustration experienced by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and focus efforts and energies on securing equal rights.

32 comments on “NAIDOC Week salutes importance of the Tent Embassy

  1. Thanks Miglo.

    I think it is often quite easy for us in Australia to forget that there are still some very real and raw issues regarding our own history. I hope NAIDOC Week provides opportunities to reflect on this as well as find ways we can genuinely work together to secure equal rights.

    I’m interested in reading what others have to say.

  2. I concur, my d-i-l is TSI and we have a number of people here with Aboriginal and TSI blood connections, if not of the blood then of the spirit which is equally as important.

  3. I hope NAIDOC week gets the government to rethink its direction, especially the extension of the NTER against all the facts on its efficacy and the will of those directly affected.

  4. The extension of the NTER is my biggest disappointment in the Labor Government. I don’t think it was implemented for any other means than political gain by Howard. It should have been dismantled in November 2007.

  5. I think it’s appalling that we only hear how white people find the Tent Embassy irrelevant, yet its status to Aboriginal people is never given any currency.

  6. Going back to the original NTER, one of the worst things (just my opinion) done by Howard was the abandonment of the Permit System. The Aunties used to be able to have some control over the community especially the entry of the white fella onto their land. From memory, and Migs would know far better than myself, but the Permit System was abandoned so as to allow “inspectors” into the communities. That’s the last thing that you need, is to deprive communities of the ability to be able to control their own destinies. I don’t know whether the Permit System has ever been reinstated.

  7. And here is the Coalitions response on the Constitution

    The referendum vote will now almost certainly not go ahead until the Coalition wins an election.

    “THE Coalition says only Tony Abbott as a conservative prime minister can convince Australians to change the Constitution to acknowledge Aborigines, while Julia Gillard’s advocacy would ensure the defeat of a referendum.

    Opposition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis says there is no way a vote will or should occur under Ms Gillard.”

  8. Fair points, though perhaps a little light on the importance of respect for cultural identity and heritage.

    Is there any co-ordinated, funded program that builds respect, creates role models (beyond footballers). Why do people simply accept that “imitation European arts” are so generously funded, and indigenous art is so hopelessly underfunded?

  9. ToM, and why is the only career path for indigenous people football or art? I use the term indigenous because d-i-l’s family is a mix of Aboriginal and TSI, however Migs told me one time that some Aboriginal people dislike the term.

    Cairns, where my crew hail from has a lot of indigenous art, excellent co-ops and some beautiful outlets/shops on The importantly, people are paid at fair market value. D-i-l plays for the Aboriginal ladies football team..she’s a mean half-forward.

    I could mention about Art per’s very few artists of any cultural background who can earn a living from it.

    There is however, even in Cairns a note of indigenous peoples being an under-class. For example, there is not one single indigenous hairdresser/beautician in all of Cairns. M* explained that this is because white people don’t like being touched by darker hands. Sad isn’t it.

  10. Art isn’t simply about earning a living from it.

    Art captures and records culture; it is the form of expression that earns respect in the wider community. It builds cultural understanding. There is so much in artistic endeavour that creates goodwill.

    It isn’t just about making a dollar and it isn’t simply about the artist, it’s about the culture it represents.

    But the government generously funds imitation European art, and starves our indigenous artists. Where are our exhibitions of indigenous art? It is quite disgraceful.

  11. ToM, it is indeed. And art is even more, it is about capturing the essence of Spirit.

    Our local Aunties are Bundjalung of the Awakwal people (the Mundines are Bundjalung) and there are many exhibitions around here, Byron Bay, Murwillumbah. The Aunties also go to local primary schools, tell about the spirits of the land. The Aunties were also instrumental in obtaining Native Title for an area from the Bundjalung National Park to Mt. Warning and more recently south of Byron Bay.

  12. Sorry, nothing changes.

    “Face the facts! You have been conquered! Get over it! Get a job, look after your bloody children and stop putting your hand out! You should have put up a better fight to keep your land or more frankly the English should have wiped you all out because the 2.6% of you are costing our country a fortune and making our country a place of ghetto violence!


    “You now have black blood mixed with white trash creating one of the worse kind of human societies. Harsh, shocking? and true!
 Australia cannot say sorry any longer, they cannot keep hanging their heads in shame..we didn’t do this, our ancestors did, it is done, we cannot go back only forward.”

    Tracker traced her identity, not because we suspected she had links to Toomelah, but because the comments were so extreme that they warranted a closer look.
    When approached with the details of Makim’s post, Jason Ardler, the head of AANSW told Tracker:

  13. Cu, no I’m not surprised having been involved for quite some time with a Facebook Group which reports issues mostly to do with racial vilification. An example from today is: What is the difference between a pile of dead Abos and a pile of rocks.

    Hatred will remain hatred and although we wish with all of our hearts to promote the good and the positive about the Aboriginal people, sometimes it’s best to know that there is this element, and often a vocal one in our society.

    Therefore when Tony Abbott and his ilk tell Aboriginal people that things such as the Tent Embassy are past their useby date, he should consider what many Aboriginal people are up against.

    However, that’s wishful thinking.

  14. ToM, I must express my delight that you accepted my invitation to engage meaningfully in Alex’s thread. I didn’t expect it, however, I’m glad that I was wrong.

    I have been attending to a few things today and haven’t kept up with the blogs, which I will endeavour to do when I get home shortly. I would like to expand on the valid points you have raised. It is difficult to type unhindered on a mobile phone.

  15. Well I finally got here. Sometimes my 40 winks turn into 40 day sleeps.

    ATSIC had some wonderful initiatives under ther Art and Culture programs. These were welcomed by communities in remote areas where employment was scarce. Many communities were able to open art centers and museums to take advantage of the tourist market, but the best thing about the programs was the community involvement.

    The programs were administered by local ATSIC staff who were skilled in the trade and aware of community needs.

    These programs went to pot after Howard shut down ATSIC and handed the administration over to mainstream departments, who now run the programs from capital cities where the staff have no idea about community issues.

    Some CDEP programs were also utilised for art and cultural activities, but as a business enterprise.

    Guess what? Howard closed down CDEP as well. The local people in remote communities now have little to do. Abbott wants them to move 2000 miles from home to work for Gina Rinehart.

  16. That’s an interesting and informed narrative on indigenous art, and its relevance to culture.

    No art is static and I’ve heard ill-informed criticism about contemporary themes and developments. No one suggest that the Rolling Stones should be playing the mandolin.

    The point about art is that it is the human endeavour that most closely reflects history and culture. Here we are with one of the most fascinating and deeply rooted heritages, and it is appreciated more overseas than by our own society, and government.

    It’s quite disgraceful.

  17. A sad lacking in education in the Arts in general I believe, and a worse ignorance of our own Aboriginal cultures.

  18. I was initially worried that this would turn into some kind of exercise for people to justify some of our terrible policies towards Australia’s First Peoples but this has been a really fascinating thread.

    However one element that I didn’t raise in my post was that of the importance of language and how language is a key to understanding others’ culture. Unfortunately Australia has one of the highest rates of language extinction in the world.

  19. Alex, Migs is our resident expert on this issue and I hope that I am not too bold in suggesting that he might like to provide some insight into this.

  20. I should add, from the very small amount which I know which has come mostly from Migs’ teaching, there are many nuances of the Aboriginal language/s, the subtleties which require a lot of learning and study.

    We of British/European origins have language connected to the world around us, some words for spiritual ideas but there is a culture out there, ancient beyond our understanding where the whole thing is a continuum..language, the people, the earth and the spiritual essence are all a part of each other. There is no disconnect, it’s quite unimaginable for we whose imaginations tend to be tied to the ordinary and the mundane.

  21. Alex, I did an introduction to Pitjantjatjara language at uni. I’ve forgotten more than I learnt.

    It’s a hard language to learn. It’s an easy one to forget. Especially when I’m not in an area where the language is often spoken.

  22. Migs I think you’re totally right about that. I’ve attempted to learn some Meriam Mir (a language of the Torres Straits) but it is difficult to learn despite looking like a relatively easy language to learn. And there are not enough people around that speak Meriam Mir making it more difficult to learn it.

    I guess my point about language was that through learning the original languages of Australia we are able to better appreciate the original cultures of Australia.

  23. Alex, the Pitjantjatjara language has roughly 10,000 words, with 99% of them being about four miles long. Roughly 2,000 people in SA speak it as their first language. It is one of the few Indigenous languages considered safe from immediate extinction.

  24. Only because the native speakers are way too stubborn to ever stop trying…

    The matter of Pitjantjatjara is that you have to dissect it. And it’s not always in a logical sequence. Take the word, dissect it and toss it up in air and you will see the result.

  25. Alex, putting on my educational psychology hat for a moment..the prime time to learn a language is age 2 years. Many suggest that Aboriginal people should “integrate” and not be taught the language..nothing could be further from the truth. All children benefit from being bi-lingual.

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