The proud history of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy
Produced & directed by Fabio & Alessandro Cavadini
Distributed by Smart Street Films
Screening by the Inner West Film Fanatics, Petersham Bowling Club, June 24, 7.00pm
http://www.thepbc.org.au or email firstname.lastname@example.org
In 1972 at the peak of Aboriginal political militancy in Australia, two Italian brothers, Allessandro and Fabio Cavadini, made a film called Ningla a-Na about the "Aboriginal Embassy" demonstrations in Sydney and Canberra that year.
The demonstrations took the reality of a dispossessed people right to the front door of Parliament House in Canberra. Aboriginal activists were able to convey their message to the world as a major television news item. The appalling, health, housing, education and incarceration rates of Aborigines were at last in the public domain.
On "Australia Day", January 26, 1972, the Tent Embassy was established in response to the McMahon Coalition government's refusal to recognise Aboriginal land rights. A new general purpose lease for Aborigines would be conditional upon their "intention and ability to make reasonable economic and social use of land" and it would exclude all rights they had to minerals and forests.
The reaction was instant and dramatic as Redfern-based Aboriginal activists moved quickly to establish a protest camp on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra. Some of the people involved in its establishment included Gary Foley, Chicka Dixon, Pearl Gibbs and Paul Coe.
Efforts to remove the Tent Embassy were prevented by a flaw in Canberra ordinances. It was discovered that there was no actual prohibition on camping on the parliamentary lawn. This enabled the activists to establish a permanent presence.
- Watch Ningla A-Na online here: Clip 1, clip 2, and clip 3
- Part I: The Aboriginal struggle for justice and land rights
- Part II: Reconciliation and the Aboriginal rights movement
The "Aboriginal Embassy" protest was the most effective political action in the history of the Aboriginal struggle. Black marchers were joined for the first time by massive white support as more information became available about the reality of our colonial past.
The people of innder-Sydney Redfern were central to this national struggle for recognition and this is reflected in Ningla a-Na. Film Fanatics are therefore organising a bus from the Redfern Community Centre to ensure as many elders as possible can attend the screening. Jenny Munro, "the baby of the Tent Embassy activists", will be there to share memories and facilitate discussion on the night, and will be joined by filmmaker Fabio Cavadini and others.
Film Fanatics selects films from the National Film and Sound Archives and has endeavored to include films that tell the story of Aboriginal Australia. In the past year Protected, about the Palm Island strike, provided an opportunity for Lex Watton to visit Sydney and No Fixed Address was introduced by Bart Willoughby, one of our very significant Australian song writers.
The metaphor of the Tent Embassy is such that it continues to exist as the most vital gathering place. In 1995, the site of the Tent Embassy was added to the Australian Register of the National Estate as the only Aboriginal site in Australia that is recognised nationally as representing political struggle for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
On February 13, Aboriginal people gathered and camped en masse to hear the prime minister give an unqualified apology for the laws and policies that "inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss". Children splashed in the lakes and adults sat and talked amidst an array of signs dominated by one word "sovereignty". It is difficult to imagine how Australia can move forward in a proud and integrated way without coming to terms with an Aboriginal authority integral to having a natural affinity with the land.
It is a significant time to revisit this film Ningla a-Na and the establishment of the Tent Embassy. We hope as many people as possible will come to acknowledge the Redfern community and to let their passion and dedication form a through-line in defining how our future unfolds. It is an opportunity to reflect on the Pitjantjatjara expression "ningla-a-na" which translates as "we are hungry for our land".