BY LARA PULLIN
CANBERRA â On July 14, the conflict between police and protesters at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy site turned violent. A police car ran into indigenous custodian Daryl Bloomfield, knocking him onto its bonnet in full view of TV cameras.
The dispute at the tent embassy follows an agreement between the Land Council representing the local Ngunnawal people and the National Capital Authority which is responsible for the Parliamentary Precinct of the ACT. Under the agreement, the tent embassy will be abandoned and replaced by two multi-million-dollar developments â Reconciliation Place and Commonwealth Place.
For the last 29 years the Aboriginal tent embassy has been a national site of protest demanding Aboriginal sovereignty with full land and sea rights. The site is listed on the national heritage register.
Ngunnawal traditional owner Valda Connors opposes the development, and argues that no sectional group â not even her own land council â has the right to bargain over something of this significance to all Australians.
Reconciliation Place will include a caf, a cultural centre and a glass-enclosed gas "memorial" fire, to replace the sacred fire which indigenous activists have maintained at the tent embassy site.
South Australian indigenous leader Kevin Buzzacot told Green Left Weekly the design was a "great hypocrisy and a white lie to disguise the failure of reconciliation. And the steel and glass and gas fire has nothing to do with Aboriginal culture anyway".
Protesters remaining at the embassy were first attacked by the police on July 5. Bloomfield, claiming traditional authority, refused police access to dismantle the peaceful protest at the building site. Bloomfield was arrested and police put out the ceremonial fire with an extinguisher, removed the Aboriginal protest flag which had been carried in the march to the embassy from Lake Eyre last year, and confiscated bedding and shelter.
On July 10, in the middle of NAIDOC week â supposed to celebrate the contribution of indigenous people â protesters carried the ceremonial fire up the steps of Old Parliament House, filling the building with eucalyptus smoke, to the entry area out the front. They demanded that the Aboriginal flag on the building be lowered.
As a bus load of foreign tourists arrived for NAIDOC week celebrations, they saw a police rescue squad and Federal Police attempting to stop indigenous activists removing their flag from Old Parliament House whilst smoke billowed from inside. Eventually the protesters won their demands.
Following this incident, attacks on the embassy by police have dramatically increased leading to the car assault on Bloomfield during an attempt to shut down the site. Activists have managed to maintain the protest, however, and intend to use Bloomfield's impeding trial for resisting arrest to argue their case. Kevin Buzzacot is currently acting as custodian of the ceremonial fire.