On January 26, 1972, a national holiday in Australia, some Aborigines pitched a tent outside the Canberra Parliament to demand their rights. It will be for 5 years,
up to the law of Aboriginal land rights. But half a century later, the road is still long
In the second half of the twentieth century, many indigenous peoples endowed themselves with political and diplomatic structures in order to assert their rights. With the exception of a few isolated cases, they will carry out their demands without using violence and even less terrorism, as happened in Europe: think of Corsica, the Basque Country, Northern Ireland. Effectively, indigenous peoples start from a particularly disadvantaged position, so their first goal is to conquer a political subjectivity they have never had. In other words, the right to be heard as interlocutors and no longer as exponents of civilizations doomed to extinction. The political and social achievements of indigenous peoples are determined by various factors: their diplomatic skills, the politics of the state in which they live, their geographical position, any natural resources in their territories. Along with these factors, the existence of a treaty that clearly defines their rights plays a crucial role. As a result, people who are not guaranteed by such an agreement, such as the Australian Aborigines (the common name is written in capital letters to distinguish them from all other indigenous peoples on the planet) are particularly disadvantaged. Spread over vast, geographically remote spaces, these people do not find support from famous actors or other characters. The Australian Confederation, born in 1901, first recognized their right to vote in 1962, while being included in the 1967 census. But in practice, they remain discriminated against, undermined by poverty and alcohol, surrounded by a hostile and racist environment. At the same time, the problem of their territorial rights remains unresolved.
On January 26, 1972, Australia’s National Day, Prime Minister William McMahon confirmed that the government did not intend to recognize Aboriginal land rights. Alternatively, the Prime Minister proposes to grant the land in the right of use, but only on condition that they make “a reasonably profitable use from an economic and social point of view”, however, waives all rights to mineral extraction. At this point, the poll is full: Four Aborigines (Ghillar Michael Anderson, Tony Coorey, Billy Craigie and Bertie Williams) decide to organize an initiative that catches media attention. So the same January 26, 1972, on the lawn of the federal parliament in Canberra, they mount a beach umbrella and give life to the so-called “Aboriginal tent embassy”, a kind of “Aboriginal embassy”, staffed by some activists. They issue a document with various requests and declare that they will only leave them once these have been accepted. Once again, territorial rights play a key role. The unusual initiative quickly became a great success. Indigenous groups are moving from different parts of Australia to support the protest. The government repeatedly tried to evacuate the protesters, but in vain. Some Australians support the protest, but much of the public opinion turns out to be hostile, so much so that the tent and the associated structures are burned several times and promptly reorganized.
In late 1972, the political elections marked the victory of the Labor Party, which had presented a program that paid attention to the original minority. The new Prime Minister Gough Whitlam establishes the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and a Dedicated Legislative Commission. But the promises only became a reality in 1976, and moreover only in the Northern Territory, with the Aboriginal Territorial Rights Act. The expectations raised by the Labor government are therefore disappointed. Moreover, the interests of the mining companies are not compromised in the slightest. However, the Whitlam Government is improving the social and health conditions of indigenous peoples and is, above all, the first to undertake to recognize the centrality of territorial rights.
In late 1976, afterAboriginal law on land rights approved by the government, Aboriginal activists decide to dismantle the embassy. The garrison will be reorganized in other parts of the capital to be finally closed in 1992. Other “embassies” will be established in the following years. One was erected in Sydney in 2000 due to the Olympics, the same where Cathy Freeman will be the first Aboriginal woman to win a gold medal (400 meters). Similar security measures are also being put in place in Perth and elsewhere.
On January 26, 2022, the 50th anniversary of the Aboriginal Embassy was celebrated with numerous initiatives. Many of these included the only surviving founder, Ghillar Michael Anderson, who emphasized the historical significance of the embassy and the progress it unleashed. At the same time, however, he rejected a nostalgic approach and stated that the struggle that began at the time continues: “My task is not finished. We still have a long way to go again ”.
At the end of the last century, the already difficult relations between the Aborigines and the Australian majority were further aggravated by the painful question of stolen generations. In fact, the report of the Federal Commission was published in May 1997, which conducted a study on the forced transfer of Aboriginal children, which was operated on systematically between the 10s and 70s. During these decades, thousands of Aboriginal children have been forcibly evicted from their families and locked up in orphanages with the intent of “making them white.” Virtually no family has escaped this tragedy, to which many religious also made a remarkable contribution. The report, which accuses the federal government of genocide, calls for appropriate compensation for the victims. But no one wants to take on the heavy responsibility that comes with such disgusting actions. There are even those who say that everything was done “in the interest of the children”. In the following years, a long process of litigation and requests for compensation began, which is still ongoing.