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Australia Day under a beach umbrella

The text of Prime Minister William McMahon's speech was released on 25 January, the day before Australia Day. Aboriginal activists in Redfern, a suburb of Sydney, heard the speech on the radio. They understood that it rejected the idea of an Aboriginal title to land and decided on action.

With the support of the Communist Party of Australia, four young Aboriginal men - Billy Craigie, Tony Coorey, Michael Anderson and Bert Williams - travelled from Sydney to Canberra. By the end of Australia Day they were seated on the lawns facing Parliament House under a beach umbrella with a sign that read 'Aboriginal Embassy'. Michael Anderson told the press, 'The land was taken from us by force ... We shouldn't have to lease it ... Our spiritual beliefs are connected with the land'. [1]

Angered at the federal government's Australia Day statement rejecting Aboriginal land rights, these four men drove from Sydney to Canberra to set up their protest under a beach umbrella.
Australia Day: Michael Anderson, Billie Craigie, Bert Williams and Tony Coorey
Angered at the federal government's Australia Day statement rejecting Aboriginal land rights, these four men drove from Sydney to Canberra to set up their protest under a beach umbrella.
Source: Tribune/SEARCH Foundation, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

Over the following days and weeks they would be joined by other black activists: Gordon Briscoe, Paul Coe, Chicka Dixon, Gary Foley, Bruce McGuinness, John Newfong, Roberta Sykes, Denis Walker and many others from all states and territories of Australia. The press criticised McMahon's statement and gave the group a sympathetic hearing.

'A price on our guilt' Australia Day editorial, <em>The Australian</em>, 26 January 1972

'A price on our guilt' Australia Day editorial, The Australian, 26 January 1972

The Australian, 26 January 1972

Download 'A price on our guilt' Australia Day editorial, The Australian, 26 January 1972 [PDF 424kb]

Bruce Petty cartoon satirising Prime Minister McMahon's position on land rights
Bruce Petty cartoon satirising Prime Minister McMahon's position on land rights
Source: The Australian, 25 January 1972

Further resources

People

Gordon Briscoe
Paul Coe
Chicka Dixon
Gary Foley
Bruce McGuinness
John Newfong
Roberta Sykes
Denis Walker

Organisation

Communist Party of Australia

Footnotes

1 Canberra Times, 26 January 1972.



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