50th Anniversary of Aboriginal Tent Embassy – 26 January 2022 and QUT Centre for Justice Indigenous Briefing Paper Series

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory (ACT), Australia, Australasia from Lonely Planet

The 26th of January 2022 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra, Ngambri-Ngunnawal Country, which is situated on the lawns of Old Parliament House in Canberra. This is a momentous occasion in the history of the struggle for justice for Indigenous people. In 1992, on its 20th anniversary, the Tent Embassy became a permanent fixture, representing the ongoing struggle for Aboriginal Sovereignty and land rights. In 1995, the Australian Heritage Commission recognised it as a site of special cultural significance, and it was entered in the Register of the National Estate – Australia’s list of natural and cultural heritage places. It is the only place recognised nationally for the political struggle of Aboriginal people. It is also the longest continually run protest site in the world.1. The Embassy also supports Indigenous people travelling to Canberra for business with the government, ensuring they have a safe place to work, while having a cuppa.

On the eve of 26 January 1972, the government at that time, the McMahon government, announced that Indigenous people would not have independent ownership of traditional land but communities could apply for a 50-year general purpose lease if they could demonstrate a social and economic use for the land, excluding any mineral and forest rights. Following this announcement, several protest groups formed, including a group from Redfern in Sydney which included – Michael Anderson, Billy Craigie, Bertie Williams and Tony Coorey. They drove to Canberra and set up a beach umbrella on the lawns opposite Old Parliament House.

And so, began a 50-year legacy of protest and support for grassroots campaigns to push government to recognise and rectify many important issues affecting Indigenous people.

The activists involved with the Embassy are many, as are the advancements gained. However, for the 50th anniversary of the Tent Embassy, QUT C4J would like to shine a light on the women who helped set up the Embassy and who have kept it running for 5 decades, as the roles they played and do still play in supporting the Embassy are not widely known. The work done by these women should be recognised and respected.

In recognition of this anniversary, QUT Centre for Justice have released an Indigenous Briefing Paper Series to highlight the research being undertaken across the Centre. These papers include:

Annabelle Craft, Sjaana Steffens and John Scott, in their paper titled, “Justice Reinvestment in the Northern Peninsula Area: The NPA Licence and ID Muster Initiatives” look at the distinct features of justice reinvestment as applied in a discrete Indigenous community, the Northern Peninsula Area (NPA). Over half of Indigenous inmates in North Queensland correctional facilities are imprisoned for licence-related offences. Licensing musters in the NPA have, in a short period of time, assisted over 29.4% of the licensable population with licensing- and identity-related issues. This important cross-agency and community-driven work has implications beyond criminal justice, also addressing disadvantage associated with education and employment.

Belinda Carpenter, Steph Jowett and Gordon Tait investigate the over-representation of Indigenous people in suicide statistics internationally as indicative of the impact of the broader context of colonialism. Their paper, titled “Indigenous suicide rates and the colonial logic of legal decision making” argues that the recommendations aimed at Indigenous people in coronial suicide inquests perpetuate a focus on Aboriginal people as the problem to be solved, as opposed to the impact of colonial relations. They suggest that such insights are as relevant to criminal justice jurisdictions, as they are to coronial or medico-legal ones.

As part of their research funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education, Deanna Grant-Smith and Bernd Irmer consider how Australian universities are performing against parity targets for the participation of Indigenous students in higher education. Their paper, Widening the participation of Indigenous students in Australian Higher Education” finds that despite over three decades of the widening participation agenda, significant work remains to reach targets for enrolments and completions in undergraduate, postgraduate coursework, and postgraduate research.

And finally, Stephanie Parkin takes on “The ongoing problem of fake Aboriginal art and craft products in the souvenir market” discusses the exploitation of Aboriginal cultural expression through the existence of inauthentic or fake Aboriginal art and craft products that has existed in Australia for decades. She makes important recommendations for regulatory reform.  Links to this paper will be available shortly.

Please contact QUT Centre for Justice at qutc4j@qut.edu.au if you wish to discuss our research and projects further.

  1. Belle Budden – https://www.echo.net.au/2021/10/50-years-of-aboriginal-tent-embassy/

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