More than 200 police staged a dawn raid on the peaceful Aboriginal Sovereignty Embassy in Musgrave Park, South Brisbane on May 16. They evicted the 80 people defending the site and arrested about 30.
More than 100 protesters outside the wire fence surrounding the park rallied in support, despite a police blockade of all streets around the area from 6am.
The embassy, which was established in March as a follow-up to the 40th anniversary commemoration of the original Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra in February this year, had attracted hundreds of supporters to information and film nights on Aboriginal struggles over the past two months. A sacred fire was kept burning nearby, brought from the flame at the Canberra embassy.
Lord Mayor Graham Quirk visited the site on May 12 and told the embassy residents they would have to leave before the Greek Paniyiri Festival over May 19-20, which has traditionally been held in Musgrave Park. Embassy representatives had been seeking to negotiate with festival organisers about co-existence of the festival and the embassy for those two days, but to no avail.
The police invasion took place four days later, as embassy supporters gathered to defend the site.
Embassy negotiator Shannon Ruska slammed the council's actions. “They won't listen to us. We want the fire and two or three tents to looks after it,” she said, reported the Courier-Mail on May 17.
As police moved in, embassy spokesperson Wayne Wharton yelled, "You're breaking your own laws. This is our land under sovereign rule.”
Outside the wire fence, Murri community leader Sam Watson negotiated with senior police about recovering the personal property of the embassy residents. Fortunately, a metal brazier was used to carry embers from the sacred fire up the hill to the Jagera Hall area, where a new temporary camp has been established and the fire continues to burn.
After those inside the fence were pushed outside by police or arrested, the protesters then marched through city streets to State Parliament, where the official opening of the new parliament was due to occur.
At Speakers' Corner, outside the parliament building, Watson said he feared “Queensland was set to be returned to the Joh Bjelke-Petersen years, the ignoring of Indigenous issues and a parliament which did not represent 'Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders'," the May 17 Brisbane Times reported.
The police attack on the embassy has provoked widespread community anger and controversy. Local media has been running hot with the debate, with a large number of people criticising the police, council and state government's actions.
A community meeting at Jagera Hall on the morning of May 17 decided not to comment further until after talks with the council on May 22. Nevertheless, the fall-out from this dictatorial action will be felt around Queensland, nationally and even internationally for some time to come.
[A defence campaign for the embassy and those arrested is in preparation. To send message of support, email firstname.lastname@example.org.]