Aboriginal activism

Forthcoming volume: The Far Left in Australia since 1945

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I am happy to announce that Jon Piccini, Matthew Worley and I have recently signed a contact for an edited volume tentatively titled The Far Left in Australia since 1945 as part of Routledge’s Studies in Radical History and Politics. While there is no publication date yet, here is an outline of the forthcoming book as a preview…

The far left in Australia – as has been revealed by edited collections on its equivalents in the UK, USA and elsewhere – had significant effects on post-war politics, culture and society. The Communist Party of Australia (CPA) ended World War II with some 20,000 members, and despite the harsh and vitriolic Cold War climate of the 1950s, seeded or provided impetus for the re-emergence of other movements. Radicals subscribing to ideologies beyond the Soviet orbit – Maoists, Trotskyists, anarchists and others – also created parties and organisations and led movements. All of these different far left parties and movements changed and shifted during time, responding to one political crisis or another, but they remained steadfastly devoted to a better world.

Equally, members and fellow travellers of the CPA and other far left groups instigated or became centrally involved in struggles for indigenous rights, gender equality, ending immigration restrictions, stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and fostering peace—alongside continuing work in trade unions. In starting these groups, providing personnel, funding and guidance, far left activists contributed in no small way to the reforms that have changed Australian from the racist, sexist and parochial society of 1945 to one which is now multicultural, champions gender equality and is open to the world. The far left’s contribution to culture also cannot be ignored, with the CPA in particular providing a home for writers, poets, film makers and others who found their experimentation unwelcomed in an Australia in the grips of the cultural cringe.

Lastly, the Australian far left has also had a fascinating – if troubled and convoluted – career of ‘mainstreaming’ itself, whether through aforementioned cultural organisations, or through working with the social democratic Australian Labor Party, forming their own electoral alliances, or reaching out with mass market books. As such, while the far left might have never led a revolution in Australia, it has inarguably played a central role in revolutionising it.

The study of protest movements is exploding around the world. Major research and publishing projects charting the far left – particularly set around that halcyon year of 1968 – have appeared in most western nations in recent years. Yet, no such comparable body of work exists for Australia’s vibrant and exciting far left movements in the post-war era – from the Communist Party of Australia to smaller ideological groups, their intersections with broader movements for women’s, indigenous and gay liberation and broader effects on culture and society. By analysing far left movements in Australia from 1945 to the 1980s, these interconnections are explored in depth, and a light can be shone on the current state of Australia’s left and progressive movements.

As such, this book’s key strengths lie in its broad range of topics – from the politics of Australian communism in its various forms to the far left’s interactions with the women’s, gay, anti-nuclear, anti-war and indigenous groups, as well as attempts to mainstream its appeal via electoral politics, government compromises and mass media.

This work exists at the intersection of academia and activism, offering politically and theoretically informed chapters which provide both valuable scholarly interventions into key local and global debates, as well as casting light on contemporary struggles around the world. As such, its readership will be broad, encompassing activists of all ages and across a variety of causes, as well as the growing body of academics and postgraduate students studying and teaching global radicalism, as well as scholars engaged in 20th century history in general.

This collection, bringing together 14 chapters from leading and emerging figures in the Australian and international historical profession, for the first time charts some of these significant moments and interventions, revealing the Australian far left’s often forgotten contribution to the nation’s history.

Stay tuned to this blog for further information about the volume in the near future!

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New article in Journal of Australian Studies: Policing Protest in the Australian Capital Territory

Canberra Times on the first use of the Public Order Act

Just a quick post to let you all know that the latest issue of Journal of Australian Studies features my long awaited article on policing protest in the ACT in the early 1970s. The full title of the paper is ‘Policing Protest in the Australian Capital Territory: The Introduction and Use of the Public Order Act 1971’. The abstract is below:

This article examines the reaction by the Australian Federal Government to the protest movements of the 1960s–1970s and their attempts to use public order legislation to thwart radical discontent in Australia. It argues that the Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act 1971 was aimed at the threat of “violent” protests, particularly the tactic of the “sit-in”, and that to this end, the legislation was an overreaction to the actual threat posed by the protest movements at the time. It also shows that after a long gestation period, the Act was ill-equipped to deal with the changing nature of demonstrations in the 1970s, such as the problems caused by the erection of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. Thus, after an initial flurry of use in mid-1971, the law has been seldom used since.

You can find the article here. If you use academia.edu, you can access the article here.

CFP FOR EDITED VOLUME ON HISTORY OF THE AUSTRALIAN FAR LEFT

CPA pamphlet

Evan Smith (Flinders University), Matthew Worley (University of Reading) and Jon Piccini (University of Queensland) are calling for chapter proposals for an edited volume on the Australian far left in the post-war era (1945 to the present). Expanding on our work looking at the history of the British far left, we believe that a survey of the exciting new work being done of the far left in Australia and its influence on wider Australian political history is due.

We are currently seeking chapter proposals on the following topics:

  • The CPA and Cold War espionage
  • 1956 for the Australian left
  • The peace/nuclear disarmament movement
  • The student left and the anti-Vietnam War movement
  • Radical Marxism since the 1960s (Trotskyism, Maoism, anti-revisionism)
  • Anarchism in Australia
  • ASIO and the new left
  • The left and Indigenous rights
  • The left and the women’s movement
  • The left and gay rights
  • The anti-apartheid movement in Australia
  • Nationalism and internationalism on the far left
  • Trade unionism, the ALP and the left
  • The Green Bans
  • Environmentalism and the Greens as a ‘left’ party
  • Or any other aspect of the Australian far left if suitably interesting.

We welcome proposals from both scholars and activists, but emphasise that chapters must be presented in an academic format, written ‘objectively’ and with references to primary source materials.

An internationally recognised publisher has already shown interest in publishing the collection.

300 word abstracts and a short bio should be sent to: evan.smith@flinders.edu.au (Please CC in m.worley@reading.ac.uk and Jon.Piccini@uqconnect.edu.au into all emails)

Please email any editor with any further questions.

DEADLINE FOR ABSTRACTS – 4 APRIL, 2016

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#BlackPantherWoman: Black Power, gender and limits of transnationalism – a guest post by Jon Piccini

Once again, Jon Piccini (University of Queensland) has written a splendid piece on the recently shown documentary Black Panther Woman and I’m delighted that this blog is able to post it. Jon also wrote this piece on Anne Summers’ Damned Whores and God’s Police a few months ago.

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The airing of Blackfella Film’s Black Panther Woman on SBS is significant for a few reasons. It highlights sexual crimes and violence within what academics broadly call the ‘New Left’ – those social movements of the 1960s and 1970s which challenged the capitalist/racial/gender/sexual status quo. As the film’s protagonist, Marlene Cummins, notes: “the thing is that violence on women permeates the whole of society: white or black”, and sexist/patriarchal values infused these social movements as well.

Here, I want to look briefly at the construction of masculinity in these movements and how this provided the political foundations for such violence. Secondly, I want to draw out some of the interesting parallels between Cummins’ trip to New York in the film, and similar trips taken by radical aboriginal activists in the 1970s.

Masculinity was at the centre of the 1960s revolts. For the white student left, heroic, handsome figures like Cuban-Argentine revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara were the epitome of a rebellious masculinity, and groups such as Students for a Democratic Society in America (and of course similar groups in Australia) were overwhelmingly led by males who relegated women to menial secretarial or typing jobs – much as women were in the workforce and society at large. Sara Evans has described well how the second wave feminist movement emerged not only out of a rebellion against sexist society – but the continuation of these practices within the white left and indeed the black civil rights movement.

For the ‘coloured’ left, masculinity was equally vital, but for a whole range of other reasons. For black power radicals in the United States, black men had been robbed of their masculinity by the dehumanisation of slavery and their continued status as colonial subjects. If black men had been emasculated and feminised by colonial white society, then the enactment of a proud black masculinity was seen as vital to the reclaiming of this. Such an ideology left little space for women. Stokely Charmical famously commented that the place of black women in the movement was “prone” – women’s place was to ascribe to traditional feminine values and faithfully serve their men – including being effective sexual chattels – so as to not contribute to the colonist’s emasculation.

As Black Panther Woman highlights, this hideous gender politics travelled across the Pacific to Australia alongside the whole package of Black Panther Party iconography, lexicon and practice – fusing with a pre-existing sexism and unofficial code of silence. The place of women in the Black Panther and broader civil rights/black power movement has been reassessed in recent decades, with quite a bit of academic work now existing exploring the importance of both well-known women radicals like Kathleen Cleaver, and the lesser known activists whose day-to-day work was vital to the success of these movements. Marlene’s story of political dedication amidst such personal pain is sobering and heart wrenching, highlighting a gap in our understanding of the reality of sexual violence within New Left movements.

The documentary was also fascinating from another perspective – that of the global imagination of radicals during the period. Marlene’s obvious pleasure at being invited to New York to attend a gathering of Black Panther-inspired radicals from around the world is a fascinating mirroring of the experience of another indigenous woman travelling to America forty-five years earlier – Patsy Kruger. Kruger, 30 years old and president of the Victorian branch of the Aboriginals Advancement League, was invited along with four other Australians – Bruce McGuinness, Solomon Belear, Jack Davis and Bob Maza – to attend a the 1970 Congress of African People’s in Atlanta, Georgia. Thankfully for historians, the five recorded their thoughts on the trip in a now very-rare book on the trip.

Upon receiving the invitation to travel to the congress, Kruger recalled thinking “my feeling good could know no bounds”. Interviewed by The Age before her departure, Patsy explained a bit of why she felt such excitement: “Intelligent, vocal and articulate, [Kruger] is determined to learn all she can…about how best to start a revolution for Aboriginal rights in Australia.” This desire to learn from black activists in the USA was mirrored by other travellers, many of whom had already begun using the rhetoric of Black Power in the few years previously to express their frustration at the failure of the 1967 referendum to engender any real change. As Kruger put it, white Australians were

apathetic, selfish or self-centred… oh, they have a conscience about it. They proved that in the 1967 referendum. But they subdued it and didn’t really go to the basic problems of the Aboriginals.

Yet, the visit to the United States actually delivered only mixed results for the travellers. Kruger recalls the Congress of African People’s being a terrific experience, having “met, talked and lived with black brothers and sisters in the struggle, mostly from North America, but also from the United Caribbean, South America, Asia and Africa”. Cummins enjoys a similar euphoria in the documentary, being surrounded by activists from around the world united by a sense of (now somewhat nostalgic) attachment to ideals of Black Nationalism.

The significance of this level of contact for aboriginal activists in the 1970s cannot be overstated – for many activists of colour around the world seemed just as unaware of their existence as white Australians pretended to be. Aboriginal activist Bobbi Sykes remembers going to a famous black political bookstore in Harlem, New York, only to be told “that there weren’t any blacks in Australia. Hence no Black Australia section”. Kruger described leaving the conference as a “sister in the struggle for the liberation of black people wherever they are and whoever they are”.

Yet, these important contacts and lessons also highlighted for some the impracticability of global connections. Cummins’ narrative is one of holus bolus transition of Black Panther ideas from America to Australia – but the reality was much more complex. Bob Maza, for example, reflected in a later interview how:

The black situation in the USA made me realise that if our black movement here in Australia is going to be left in the hands of whatever ego-trippers there are around… then we are going to head the same way that the black Americans did.

Maza’s injunction was clear – ultra masculine and violent rhetoric would lead to splintering of the working (if tenuous and contested) coalition in Australia between black and white activists.

On a different note, Jack Davis argued that the experience of black Americans, victims of transportation and slavery yet now a significant part of American life, could not really relate to Australian Aborigines, who had been in Australia “since the creation” and had little purchase on public life. Bob Bellear struck a similar chord, noting how “the thing is that blacks in Australia… can’t equate the problems of this country, the problems of class struggle, the problems of racism in this country with problems in any other part of the world”. “[T]he problem…is getting blacks just to know about each other, in such a vast country as this”, Bellear suggested, and thus overseas experiences should only be of secondary concern.

While debated, the importance of overseas travel to the movements of the 1960s and 1970s cannot be contested, as Cummins’ final uniting with her co-thinkers across the world in Black Panther Woman so splendidly demonstrates. Equally, her gut-wrenching story of sexual abuse is a telling lesson and cautionary tale for those of us who want to make political use of the past.

Jon Piccini is a historian of social movements. His book, Global Radicals: Transnational protest, Australia and the 1960s is forthcoming with Palgrave Macmillan. He tweets at @JonPiccini.

Communism, anti-racism and the ‘imperialist war’ phase in South Africa, USA and Australia, 1939-41

With the anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War this week, this post is an extract from a paper that I am writing on the Communist Parties in South Africa, the United States and Australia and their agitation for black soldiers to join the war effort after the Soviet Union joined the Allies in June 1941. This part of the paper actually looks at the ‘imperialist’ war phase, between September 1939 and June 1941, when the international communist movement rejected the war as an inter-imperialist battle.

 

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After the signing of the Non-Aggression Pact in late August 1939, the Soviet Union shifted from its prominent anti-fascist stance that it had taken since the beginning of the Popular Front period. When Britain and France declared war on Germany, the Soviets declared that the war was an ‘imperialist’ war to maintain British and French colonial possessions.[1] Individual Communist Parties followed the Soviet lead and by October/November 1939, denounced the war as an imperialist war and pushed for ‘peace’ between the European powers. Australia and South Africa soon joined the British war effort (which was at first welcomed, then criticised by the respective Communist Parties), but the United States remained out of the war until December 1941. In the USA, the Communist Party’s main slogan was, according to Harry Haywood, ‘Keep America out of the imperialist war!’[2]

This opposition to the war reframed the anti-racist activism of the Communist Parties in all three countries, but predominantly in South Africa and the United States (partially owing to the fact that the Communist Party of Australia was banned from June 1940 to December 1942). The argument of the Communist Parties became that for non-white people, there was little difference between fascism and the imperialism of Britain and France, or particularly the discrimination faced by black people in the US or South Africa. The CPSA asked rhetorically in their Party organ in June 1940, ‘What is the difference to the Non-Europeans between the Nazi regime in Europe and the Union Government in South Africa?’, which was followed by ‘How can we be interested in fighting Nazism thousands of miles away, while in reality we have a similar monster devouring us here daily?’[3] The Communist Party argued that it was hypocritical of white South Africans to ask their non-white countrymen to fight for the Union (and the wider British Empire) when they did not enjoy the rights of their white contemporaries. A 1940 flyer produced by the Party stated:

It is an insult to the intelligence of the African, Coloured and Indian people to ask them to fight against a system of Nazi tyranny when they themselves suffer under terrible oppression and injustice.[4]

In February 1940, General Secretary of the CPSA, Moses Kotane, argued in Freedom that for Africans, there was ‘no enthusiasm among them for the war’,[5] while a pamphlet produced by the Johannesburg District Committee alleged that ‘the Coloured and African peoples are generally in a hostile frame of mind’, compared with the indifference of the Afrikaner population.[6]

However this hostility towards the war effort did not mean that Africans did not join the South African armed forces after the Union narrowly voted to go to war in October 1939. Despite the discrimination and segregation faced by Africans in the armed forces, David Killingray and Martin Plaut have calculated that more than 70,000 Africans enlisted into the Native Military Corps.[7] Although the CPSA was opposed to the war, they still campaigned for those non-Europeans who entered the armed forces to be treated as equals with white soldiers. Recognising that the armed forces offered a way out of unemployment for non-Europeans, the Party declared, ‘If the Government wants the non-Europeans to fight for it, let it give them the same rates of pay and chances of promotion as the Europeans.’[8]

Although the United States did not enter the war until after the attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941, during the ‘imperialist war’ phase, the CPUSA warned of the ‘so-called liberal bourgeoisie’ who were seeking to ‘enlist the Negro’s support for American imperialism in this reactionary war’.[9] The CPUSA reminded its readers that African-American soldiers had fought in the Revolutionary Wars, the American Civil War and the First World War and had gained little from it, so while the ‘Negro masses [were] ever ready to fight for liberty, for real democracy’, they were not ready ‘to die again for the benefit of the swollen coffers of imperialist hangmen’.[10] This reflected broader trends in the attitudes of African-Americans towards the US armed forces in the lead up to America’s involvement in the conflict. As Daniel Kryder has noted, recruitment of African-Americans into (and retention within) the armed forces prior to Pearl Harbour was poor, with ‘widespread discontent’, so that by 1943, only one-fifth of black males eligible for service were successfully recruited (compared with one-third amongst eligible white males).[11]

Much more than the natives of South Africa and African-Americans, there was an initial enthusiasm amongst indigenous Australians (both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders) to join the armed forces, although they were predominantly recruited to be support labour, rather than actual soldiers. When Australia entered the war in 1939, Noah Riseman reminds us that ‘[t]he Defence Act had no restrictions against enlistment of Aboriginal people’, although they were ‘exempt from call-up and from compulsory training’.[12] The Army had no little interest in actively recruiting indigenous people or the formation of indigenous units, but many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders did join up (approximately 3000 and 850 personnel respectively), with some seeing it as a way on encouraging the Australian Government to give its indigenous population citizenship rights.[13] Explaining the position of the influential Australian Aborigines’ League, Robert A. Hall summarised, ‘If Australia were to take seriously its fight against fascism,… then it had to take steps to end repression of Aborigines at home.’[14] However this recruitment was short-lived and in 1940, the government ‘explicitly prohibited the enlistment of all nonwhite persons into the army and navy’, although this was reassessed the following year as the threat of the Japanese loomed bigger.[15] By this time, the Soviet Union had entered the war and the position of the Communists in Australia, as well as everywhere else, had changed.

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[1] V. Molotov, Soviet Peace Policy (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1941) p. 30.

[2] Harry Haywood, Black Bolshevik: Autobiography of an Afro-American Communist (Chicago: Liberator Press, 1978) p. 496.

[3] ‘The War and Segregation’, Freedom, June 1940, p. 7. Italics are in the original text.

[4] ‘Non-Europeans and the War’ (Cape Town: CPSA flyer, 1940) BC 1081/O18.10, Ray and Jack Simons Collection, University of Cape Town Library.

[5] Moses Kotane, ‘The Africans and the War’, Freedom, February 1940, p. 7.

[6] J. Morkel, The War and South Africa, (Johannesburg: CPSA pamphlet, 1940) p. 5.

[7] David KIllingray with Martin Plaut, Fighting for Britain: African Soldiers in the Second World War (Woodbridge, Suffolk: James Currie, 2010) p. 72.

[8] ‘Non-Europeans and the War’.

[9] Theodore R. Bassett & A.W. Berry, ‘The Negro People and the Struggle for Peace’, The Communist (April 1940) p. 326.

[10] Bassett & Berry, ‘The Negro People…’, p. 326.

[11] Daniel Kryder, Divided Arsenal: Race and the American State During World War

[12] Noah Riseman, Defending Whose Country? Indigenous Soldiers in the Pacific War (Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 2012) p. 10.

[13] Robert A. Hall, The Black Diggers: Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in the Second World War (Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 1997) pp. 9-12; Riseman, Defending Whose Country? p. 10.

[14] Hall, The Black Diggers, p. 11.

[15] Riseman, Defending Whose Country? pp. 10-11. Italics are in the original text.

How the Aboriginal Tent Embassy challenged the government’s protest laws

Tomorrow is the 43rd anniversary of the establishment of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy outside (Old) Parliament House in Canberra. This post is about how the Tent Embassy challenged the protest laws enacted by the McMahon government the previous year, which sought to quash dissent outside the house of Federal Parliament. The McMahon government believed it had the necessary powers to deal with the protest movement that had developed since the late 1960s, but the Tent Embassy demonstrated that political protest was a much more fluid concept and one that puzzled the Liberal-Country government.

Part of this post will be in a forthcoming article on the Public Order Act 1971 and the policing of protest in Canberra in the 1970s (which should be available later this year).

Tent Embassy

In May 1971, the McMahon government introduced the Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act 1971 (Cth) to police the growing protest movement in the nation’s capital and to prevent ‘violent’ demonstrations outside (Old) Parliament House, as well as outside the US, South Vietnamese and South African embassies. A week after the Act was introduced, it was used against an Anti-Apartheid and an anti-Vietnam War demonstration, and then in July 1971, when people protested against the Springbok rugby tour coming to Manuka Oval. At these three demonstrations, hundreds of people were arrested for violating the new Act. Despite this seemingly successful application of the Public Order Act in 1971, the McMahon Government soon found that itself debating whether it had the necessary legislation to combat other forms of protest.

On Australia Day 1972, a group of Aboriginal activists, having travelled from Redfern in Sydney to Canberra, erected a camping site on the lawns outside (Old) Parliament House and established the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. The purpose of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy was to advocate for land rights against the limited measures introduced by the Liberals since the 1967 referendum[i] and to protest against remarks made by the Prime Minister concerning the ‘assimilation’ of Australia’s Aboriginal people on Australia Day.[ii] As Scott Robinson wrote, the Embassy protestors ‘demanded retraction of the Australia Day statement [by McMahon] and compensation for stolen lands, and warned the government that the embassy would stay until these demands were met.’[iii] As the Embassy gained attention from the media, other protest groups and even the diplomatic staff on some Soviet Bloc and non-aligned countries, the Government debated over what action to take to remove the protestors from their site.

On 23 February, 1972, former Prime Minister John Gorton asked the Minister for the Interior, Ralph Hunt, what the Government intended to do with the Embassy protest, to which Hunt replied,

I am, of course, well aware that a number of tents have been pitched outside the national Parliament in Parliament Place. The people concerned are Aborigines who are demonstrating in a peaceful way for a case in which they believe. I must say that they have been quiet and they have behaved and cooperated with the police extremely well… But I think that in the future we will have to look at an ordinance to ensure that Parliament Place is reserved for its purpose – a place for orderly and peaceful demonstration, but not a place upon which people can camp indefinitely thereby perhaps preventing other people from using it from day to day… The Australian Capital Territory police have been in constant contact with them. They have observed every request that the police have made of them, and up to date they have not disobeyed any request. But the question of reserving Parliament Place for its proper intention and proper requirement is under consideration.[iv]

It was believed by the Government and the police that there were no laws to prevent the Aboriginal activists from erecting a camping site on the lawns of Parliament House as the Trespass on Commonwealth Lands Ordinance 1932 (Cth) excluded Aboriginals from being prosecuted under this Act. Roberta Sykes, one of the activists at the Embassy, wrote in her biography (and cited by Andrew Schaap and Paul Muldoon):

At the time, the Northern Territory was just that, a territory, administered by the politicians and public servants in Canberra, and containing quite large sections of Crown land. The government had framed a law that there was to be no camping on Crown land. However, because Crown land in the Northern Territory was home to dispossessed Aboriginal people who had nowhere else to live, this law specifically excluded Aborigines. The expanse of Crown land in front of Parliament House was also Crown land, but it had obviously never entered the minds of the politicians that Aboriginals would set up camp there.[v]

Scott Robinson, in his 1994 article, wrote that ‘the only applicable legislation… was the Gaming and Betting Ordinance, s.19(a), which imposed a forty dollar fine for loitering in a public place’, but this was not used.[vi] Roger Brown has demonstrated that this Ordinance was used in January 1972 to ‘move on’ a demonstrator conducting a ‘solitary picked outside the Israeli Embassy’, but an internal government document suggested that this provision ‘should not be used in view of public criticism of its use in the [Police v] Merhav case’.[vii] The ‘often-repeated story of the legal loophole’, as described by Schaap and Muldoon, does not mention whether the Public Order Act was considered by the Government, and discussion of this new legislation is conspicuously absent from Government documents and Parliamentary debates as well. However if Ralph Hunt’s description of the Embassy, taken from the above quote as ‘preventing other people from using it from day to day’, was used, it might have been possible – at a stretch – to view the Embassy as creating an ‘unreasonable obstruction’ to access to the Parliament House lawns and thus a violation of Section 9 of the Public Order Act.[viii] Simon Bronitt and George Williams have suggested that the Aboriginal Tent Embassy was a protest that formed a political discussion with the institution of Parliament and that the Government’s powers to restrict this discussion, due to its proximity to Parliament House, were symbolically weakened by the 1912 High Court decision in R v Smithers; Ex parte Benson, which ‘recognised an implied right of access to government and to the seat of government.’[ix]

In March 1972, the McMahon Government started drafting amendments to the Trespass on Commonwealth Lands Ordinance 1932 that would remove the exception of Aboriginal camps from the legislation and by the end of June, the Trespass on Commonwealth Lands Ordinance 1972 was created that made it illegal for a person to camp or erect a structure on unleased land, owned by the Commonwealth.[x] Believing that this Ordinance was now in effect, on 20 July, 1972, the police removed the structures of the Embassy and eight protestors were arrested. Scott Robinson claims that Police Inspector Osborne ‘made several announcements over the megaphone, warning the protestors to move away from the tents, and advising them that “if you fail to move you may be arrested for obstructing police”’,[xi] but does not say whether this was an invocation of the Public Order Act.

An application was made by some of the Embassy protestors and fellow-travellers to the ACT Supreme Court that the Ordinance had not been in effect (it had not been given notice in the Commonwealth Gazette) when the police dismantled the Embassy’s structures. In September 1972, Justices Fox, Blackburn and Connor delivered the verdict in the case of Golden-Brown and others v Hunt and another that the Ordinance has not been given the sufficient Gazette notice before the removal of the Embassy and its protestors and the use of the Ordinance was not lawful at that moment.[xii] In the ensuing debacle, Parliament debated whether the Ordinance should be re-instated and in the final weeks before the dissolution of Parliament before the 1972 election, ‘former government minister Jim Killen crossed the floor to vote with the opposition over the re-gazettal of the ordinance’[xiii] and when Whitlam won the election in December 1972, Labor decided not to re-introduce the Ordinance. As Schaap and Muldoon have argued, ‘having first acknowledged that the Aboriginal demonstrators were technically permitted to camp in front if Parliament House, it proved difficult for the government to recharacterize the Embassy as an act of trespass.’[xiv]

On 17 October, 1973, the Embassy was re-erected on the lawns outside (Old) Parliament House and lasted at this spot until 13 February, 1975, then established at several different sites around Canberra until 26 January, 1992, when the Embassy was re-built on its original site and remains there until the present day.[xv] Since the mid-1990s, the Embassy has been recognised as ‘a site representing political struggle for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’ and a place of ‘significance for the local Aboriginal community’ as a traditional ‘meeting and gathering ground’.[xvi]

aboriginal_tent_embassy_1972_2

[i] Much has been written about the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, but some of the best articles are: Scott Robinson, ‘The Aboriginal Embassy: An Account of the Protests of 1972’, Aboriginal History, 18/1, 1994, pp. 49-63; Heather Goodall, Invasion to Embassy: Land in Aboriginal Politics in New South Wales, 1770-1972, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, 1996, pp. 335-351; Kathy Lothian, ‘Moving Blackwards: Black Power and the Aboriginal Embassy’, in Ingereth Macfarlane & Mark Hannah (eds), Transgressions: Critical Australian Indigenous Histories, ANU E-Press, Canberra, 2007, pp. 19-34; Paul Muldoon & Andrew Schaap, ‘Aboriginal Sovereignty and the Politics of Reconciliation: The Constituent Power of the Aboriginal Embassy in Australia’, Environment and Planning D; Society and Space, 30, 2012, pp. 534-550

[ii] Robinson, ‘The Aboriginal Embassy’, p. 49

[iii] Robinson, ‘The Aboriginal Embassy’, p. 51

[iv] Hansard, House of Representatives Parliamentary Debates, 23 February, 1972, p. 108

[v] Roberta Sykes, cited in Schaap & Muldoon, ‘Aboriginal Sovereignty and the Politics of Reconciliation’, p. 546

[vi] Robinson, ‘The Aboriginal Embassy’, p. 52

[vii] Brown, ‘“And Hast Thou Slain the Jabberwock?”’, p. 116; Department of the Interior, ‘Campers on Parliament House Lawns’, Aide Memoire, 27 June, 1972, reproduced at: http://www.reasoninrevolt.net.au/pdf/d0635.pdf (accessed on 16 August, 2012). See also: ‘New Israeli Protest Called Off’, Sydney Morning Herald, 7 January, 1972

[viii] Under the Public Order Act, ‘unreasonable obstruction’ means ‘an act or thing done by a person that constitutes, or contributes to, an obstruction of, or interference with, the exercise or enjoyment by other persons of their lawful rights or privileges (including rights of passage along the public streets) where, having regard to all the circumstances of the obstruction or interference, including its place, time, duration and nature’. Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act 1971 (Cth) s.4.(1)

[ix] Simon Bronitt & George Williams, ‘Political Freedom as an Outlaw: Republican Theory and Political Protest’, Adelaide Law Review, 18, 1996, p. 302

[x] Trespass on Commonwealth Lands Ordinance 1972 s. 3

[xi] Robinson, ‘The Aboriginal Embassy’, p. 55

[xii] Golden-Brown and others v Hunt and another, 12 September, 1972, Federal Law Reports, 19, 1972, pp. 438-451

[xiii] Robinson, ‘The Aboriginal Embassy’, p. 62

[xiv] Schaap & Muldoon, ‘Aboriginal Sovereignty and the Politics of Reconciliation’, p. 547

[xv] Coral Dow, ‘Aboriginal Tent Embassy: Icon or Eyesore?’, Parliamentary Library Paper, 4 April, 2000, http://www.aph.gov.au/library/Pubs/chron/1999-2000chr03.htm (accessed 13 January, 2010)

[xvi] Australian Heritage Council, ‘Aboriginal Embassy Site’, Australian Heritage Places Inventory, http://www.heritage.gov.au/cgi-bin/aphi/record.pl?RNE18843 (accessed 13 January, 2010)

New post at The Conversation: ‘Student Protests Won’t Be The Last’

A protest against higher education cuts in Brisbane yesterday

A protest against higher education cuts in Brisbane yesterday

The Conversation has just published this piece by myself on yesterday’s demonstrations across Australia against the Liberals’ cuts to higher education and the introduction of higher fees, arguing that the Liberals have been fearful of student radicalism since the late 1960s.

Incidentally, I am giving a paper tomorrow at Flinders University on the same topic. See details here.