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Aboriginal Embassy, 1972

A large group of people, mostly sitting, in front of a tent. In the middle of the image Alan Sharpley stands holding a sign with black lettering on a white background: We want land rights not handouts. A flag flies from the front of the tent and the Australian War Memorial can be seen far in the background.
We want land rights, not handouts
Alan Sharpley with placard, Bob Perry in a Ningla-a-Na T-shirt and John Newfong with hands on hips at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra. The Pitjantjatjara expression Ningla-a-Na is translated as 'we are hungry for our land'.
Source: Ken Middleton collection, National Library of Australia

A diplomatic mission to government

Late on Australia Day 1972, four young Aboriginal men erected a beach umbrella on the lawns outside Parliament House in Canberra and put up a sign which read 'Aboriginal Embassy'. Over the following months, supporters of the embassy swelled to 2000. When the police violently dismantled the tents and television film crews captured the violence for the evening news, an outraged public expressed its disgust to the federal government.

This political action was initiated and implemented by Aboriginal activists. The site became known as the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. It was a powerful symbol. The original owners of the land set up an 'embassy' opposite the parliament, as if they were foreigners. This act showed compellingly the strength of their sense of alienation. They were landless. Their embassy was a tent - a well understood image of poverty and impermanence. Their camp attracted unprecedented support from people across the country who recognised their sense of grievance and made their views known to the government.

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