BY PAUL OBOOHOV
CANBERRA — At 5am on July 17, about 100 Australian Federal Police officers attacked the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, acting under orders from the federal government's National Capital Authority (NCA). The AFP confiscated a previously burnt, historic demountable building.
Tent Embassy residents loudly protested the action and lit several distress flares. One resident, Darren Bloomfield, was assaulted by police and charged with assault and two counts of resisting arrest. ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope has labelled the federal government's action "very disrespectful and very insensitive to Indigenous self-determination".
An AFP investigation into the torching of the demountable building had not been completed. After the torching, Greens MLC Kerrie Tucker arranged for a fence to be erected around the embassy, however, this was confiscated by police the following day.
The demountable had seen interesting times. "Obtained" by the Builders' Labourers Federation (BLF) in the 1980s, it was used by the Anti-Apartheid Embassy that sat outside the South African Embassy until the first democratic South African elections were held in 1994, when it was moved to the Tent Embassy.
The Tent Embassy site is on the National Trust's heritage list. The government has said the building will be examined for historical significance, although the fire had destroyed many documents. The Tent Embassy is asking for donations of historical material to rebuild the collection.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission is conducting a round of consultations about the future of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, involving original protesters who set up the Tent Embassy in 1972, and the local Ngunnawal Land Council.
Bloomfield told Green Left Weekly that the embassy has no association with ATSIC and won't participate in the consultation. Another resident, Damien Eade, said ATSIC would have difficulty getting a comprehensive view of the original protesters views because so many had passed away.
From Green Left Weekly, July 23, 2003.
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