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Indigenous Australia

The Tent Embassy remains until a Treaty is sealed

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Binnah Pownall presents the most comprehensive summary yet seen of the Australia Day ‘Tent Embassy’ conflagration — along with the reasons why the Embassy won't be moving on any time soon.


The Fortieth anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra, on the 26-28th of January this year, was a 'charged affair' all the way. One felt a subtle 'edge' hanging in the air over the rose garden outside the Old Parliament House. The charged atmosphere was an indicator of the height of frustration in (Ab)Original* Australia over their continued treatment — to this day.

Founder of the Embassy Michael Anderson told the press:

"…if you kick a dog long enough, it will bite back, and the mobs out there are ready to bite…'


A modest sized, but 'fired up', mob descended on Canberra for the three-day event. The ever-increasing cost of food and travel made it very hard for many mobs to cross this big country of ours and get to Canberra. That is not to mention other events, such as funerals and other dilemmas within the family, that crop up unexpectedly and way too often. Consequently, numbers were not as big as organisers had anticipated. But they were hard-core.

In reality, the (Ab)Original Tent Embassy in Canberra is a controversial state of affairs.

Many are not sure if it is representative of the majority of Originies – or at least, that's what many 'Government paid' blackfellas say – especially away from the Embassy. Others even argue that 'Embassy' is the wrong word to use — considering that it implies that one is 'outside of their country', and not 'in it’ at all. Others would argue, on the other hand, that it is, at least, a focal point to meet at and, more importantly, it is in the nation's capital — so maybe issues such as self-determination and human rights abuses, to name only two, might get a bit of Federal attention.

All these factors tend to blur the core issues and cause more cracks and fissures in unity amongst the mobs. On one side, it is proof of the government of the day's success to get them ‘off country' in an apparent 'divide-and-conquer' strategy.

On the other side, it's proof of the strength of the Sovereign spirit of the Originies and their strength of will to survive the 210 odd years of lack of understanding, respect and what for all intents and purposes looks every bit like an attempted genocide by robber land barons!

And still The Tent Embassy goes on; forty years, 'same but different' — and as strong as ever.

The frustration level of the Originies present was palpable — though non-unified. The air was high-level charged because of things like; no real and positive change in the last few years (and under a Labour government) - in fact worse figures for Deaths in Custody since the Royal Commission that most have forgotten about. And present day matters, such as The Intervention and its threat of expansion.  Stuff like this is pushing thinking blackfellas to the limit and back! Ask yourself, how would you feel?

The (Ab)Original Tent Embassy in Canberra has operated in this fashion for forty long years now! Who would have thought it would have to last this long and even longer? It has withstood challenges from inside and out. The Tent Embassy has always been a place to come together to keep the struggle alive, and it sure did that at this Fortieth Anniversary — generously helped by Tony Abbotts' timely misquoted comments and, with the resulting 'Gingerella Affair', the confrontation at the cafe with the PM that got world press focus onto a dispute that just won't go away. It made the Embassy seem completely relevant. Thanks Tony!

The level of charged atmosphere was felt by the security staff at the Pork Barrel Restaurant (not 'The Lobby’ as the press said), when the Embassy was tipped off regarding PM Julia’s visit to the non-descript cafe, virtually next door (only 100 metres away) to the Embassy. The elephant in the room question is: why wasn't she visiting the Embassy and showing her respects?

A misquoted statement from Tony Abbott, which purportedly said the Embassy was irrelevant and should be pulled down, only fanned the fire — at what could be debated was the wrong or the right time.

So, off a bunch went to the cafe.

Not everyone at the Embassy went there.

Some say it was a set-up, for the blackfellas to really let their emotions get the better of them (lucky Abbot didn't appear!) and stuff it up — and get easily painted by the media as 'uncivilised' and as a 'rabble'.



The truth of the matter is that some men cannot help but respond when they see another man hit a woman — as did happen on the front line at the cafe. A man filming put the camera down and slugged a security guard who had just punched an Origine woman — provoked to the max! The PM’s security guards obviously overreacted in response to the heightened frustration in the air (to the point of man-handling the PM) — so much so that somebody (a guard) stepped on her blue-suede shoe!

What a modern-day fairy story that was!

The shoe was held up by some as a prophetic offering. Jokes abounded around the Embassy grounds, and many got a good belly-laugh from the day's events was heard — before it was decided to return the slipper to the princess.

Many stayed out of the 'matters arising' and stayed back at Embassy Camp.

Nobody condemned any other persons actions and the unspoken philosophy was that everyone has a part to play — somewhere in the puzzle. The best outcome for the cause was that the shoe-at-the-cafe protest drew a mountain of press — even internationally, through the BBC and The New York Times.

For exposure, in terms of just showing the problem of oppression of the Original people, it was a great success. People pay oodles out there for such exposure! Judging by some email and twitter polls on morning brekkie shows, it appeared that most people watching even cared enough to get in contact, and indicated that they saw through the media-spin and sympathised with the '(Ab)Original* issue' in general.

By the sizeable words at the Sacred Fire and other parts of the Embassy stating 'SOVEREIGNTY', the general intention of the mobs seems very clear. Though, for various wild and wonderful reasons, some families still didn't see it as their main focus.

Humans are such habitual creatures.

What we grow up with and experience when we are younger can set our social behaviour in concrete — if we are not aware of it. So, let it just be said here that some people get really good at fighting and pointing out what is wrong — and what bad things have happened in the past. So much so, that they forget about what is going on in front of their eyes and in the present, if they would just LET IT HAPPEN — rather than holding up the (potentially positive) process in front of them.

But then, when all is said and done, et cetera, it comes down to who is and who isn't getting paid by whom, and for what reasons. It is said that there is a 'black mafia', who have learned through the whiteman to love money more than their land. That money can trickle down through some families, who are encouraged to sabotage any advancements attempted by the brothers and sisters, for whatever twisted reason...

The whole PM Gingerella/Cafe affair actually took the focus off the more important discussion of Sovereignty, which is where the general trend lies.

Some do not understand, or accept, Sovereignty as a concept because it is a different head-space. It is a different and more independent way of thinking — a shift of paradigm. Those still getting their head around it were told examples of behaviour such as: going into the (so-called) National Park and, as long as they weren't breaking any 'natural laws', blackfella being able to go about doing whatever — and then choosing to go and tell the NPWS what they had done later, depending upon what it was. This is in contrast to the oppressed mode of still having to ask the ranger for permission.

Credit must be given to Elder statesmen, Denis Nunukel Bayjam Walker and Wiradjuri man, Paul Coe, amongst other unsung heroes, for starting the whole Sovereignty debate properly in blackfella circles roughly 20 years ago. Since then, other people, such as Kukutha man, 'adopted' by the Githabul, Mark McMurtrie, have picked up the gauntlet and are now also running with the banner of Sovereignty held high.

Mark is a dogged researcher and has represented himself in court and has been successful many times with the 'no jurisdiction' argument. Mark has also recently been working closely with Michael Anderson at tightening the Sovereignty noose around the oppressor Government's neck. Mark and Michael met and talked extensively before the 40th Anniversary Embassy celebrations. The fact becoming the elephant of Elephants in the room in Westminster Law is that; there is nothing to prove that the Originies ever ceded their Sovereignty. Where is the bit of paper?



Also, according to the Pacific Island Protection Act of 1872 and 1875, it was stated pretty clearly that the colonies were to respect the Sovereign Nations of the area. So the so-called Australian Government has broken the law — way back. This is one amongst many legal loopholes in the western legal concept of LAND OWNERSHIP that some hard-working blackfellas slogging away on computer screens late at night, digging and researching, are finding.

The Sovereignty question is shaping up to be a matter for the High Court, Supreme Court, and Privy Council. And, as a natural course of events, the question of Sovereignty of the Originies of this country must end in the International Courts of Justice to receive recognition and acknowledgement. Unfortunately, one can't really see the Original Peoples of this land getting any justice from the Australian legal system.

But first, before going overseas, as was pointed out by guest and International Jurist, Barrister and one of the founders of the International Criminal Court, Jerry Prus-Butwilowicz, who attended at the invitation of Mark McMurtrie, there is one important thing that all the mobs need to do — that is, to a TREATY.

This is what long term exponent of Sovereignty, Denis Walker, has been saying — at least since 1993***. Throughout White/Western history and seemingly because white-fellas can't seem to keep a written agreement (let alone a verbal one), and then finally in our era, thanks to Bob Hawke who succeeded in dirtying the word a bit more, the word Treaty doesn't sit well with many people.

In reality, it is a word – or usually a document – which simply recognises and acknowledges Sovereignty between two or more entities. That can mean; individuals, single people, tribes or States of Governments. All must demonstrate self-rule, land connection and a governing body, such as Elders in Council. So, when the tribes have done a Treaty with each other, neighbours and others afar, they then need to treat into a central body — who can speak as one, for all the tribes of this country. This is easy when greed is not involved and direction comes through the Elders and from the Spirit of the Ancestors. So, when there is a National Treaty, the Sovereign Tribes of (what is now known as) Australia are ready to Treat with other countries — like those in South America and Africa. This action, in itself, will outstrip the power of the present day government has OVER our Originies.

The intransigence of successive Governments, not to recognise the Sovereign Originies – particularly after the over-turning of the 'Terra Nullius' lie in the Courts – is, to say the least, a huge embarrassment for us on the International scene, and a personal embarrassment for every person who loves this country we all now live in. The shame lives on.

It must be finally mentioned that the North Coasts' own, The Rainbow Chai Tent, come kitchen, did a sterling effort of staying open 24 hours a day and providing food and refreshments (they loved the chai) of the highest quality and a convivial atmosphere for all the Originies, and other non-Originie, that were there so those who wanted to, could get on with the business whatever that was.



Michael Jack and family Liffy, and Megan, along with the indefatigable Benny Zable, and flags that make the famous Rainbow Chai Tent what it is, and other core members at the Embassy Judy Hale, Jules Des Brosses and Binnah Pownall (and all the 'Occupy mob' and backpackers that made it a Rainbow event) carried on a long line of white-fella support for the Tent Embassy in Canberra. Starting back with the $75 given by Dennis Freeney, Secretary of The Communist Party in Sydney at the time, (through poet and writer Kevin Gilbert's urging) to the original four, Billie Craigie, Tony Coorey, Gary Williams and Michael Anderson for the petrol money to get to Canberra.**** When the Police arrived some weeks later to pull up the newly formed Tent Embassy and a riot ensued, it was the Australian Union of Students mob who supported the Black Struggle and took the blows of the Police (and gave some back) alongside their black brothers — so as to maintain the Tent Embassy. Despite continued racism on both sides of the fence, there will always remain a strong core of unity amongst the 'diehards' of the black and white (and brindle too) mobs who just get on with the business at hand.

These people are the real unsung heroes that you rarely read or hear about — who are not there for ego aggrandisement or any acknowledgement at all. They just selflessly and tirelessly GET ON WITH THE JOB. That IS the essence of the Tent Embassy and those four original men who seemingly acted on impulse. Here's to more of those type of people.  There weren't many people there, but who were there made a huge impact because of the events. The spirit of unity is really needed now for all mobs of all colours and decrees to unify and do it for the bigger picture of freedom and peace for all.

Here's to recognition of SOVEREIGNTY and TREATY.

*The prefix 'ab' in front of a word effectively means 'not' or 'non', or the negative of the following word. The courts (where the 'right' word really matters) see words much more in their literal sense. Hence, to be 'abnormal' is to be 'not normal', and to be 'aboriginal' is to 'not be original'.

**The word is used in a general sense — as is the term 'white-fellas'

*** When in the United Nations' International Year of Indigenous Peoples, Denis – with support of the author and other white-fellas from the north coast of NSW – Keith Gasteen and Ian Gaillard fruitlessly lobbied the Keating Government with a Treaty and a Declaration of Sovereignty. It was all way too ahead of its time. In retrospect, Denis' visions are like that.

**** Then the unnamed camera/editor/journalist of the Commie rag, 'The Tribune' offered to drive them to Canberra. On leaving, they pinched his beach umbrella, and the rest is now history.

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