Police attack sovereign embassy in midnight raid

Francis Tapim ABC News 12.12.12

Three people have been arrested during an angry clash between police and Aboriginal protesters at the Brisbane tent embassy overnight.

The council shut down the embassy site at Musgrave Park in South Brisbane yesterday afternoon, at the request of [a small group of] local Indigenous elders.

The elders had expressed serious concerns to the council about the way it was being run.

Later in the evening, a smaller group of Indigenous embassy supporters returned to Musgrave Park, set up tents and restarted two sacred fires.

About 50 police, firefighters and council workers arrived soon after, but did not make a move on the group until midnight (AEST).

Officers say they tried to encourage everyone to leave quietly, but the people at the camp site refused to move.

Three people were then arrested, including longtime embassy leader Wayne Wharton.

"You are a thief ... you show me your permit to come on here - you get out," Mr Wharton told police.

He and two other people were charged with contravening a police direction.

They have been released on bail to appear in the Brisbane Magistrates Court next month.

Police storm Aboriginal tent embassy after Indigenous activists re-light flame in Musgrave Park, West End

Brittany Vonow Courier-Mail December 12, 2012

Police officers arrived at Musgrave Park in force last night after Indigenous activists re-lit the Aboriginal Tent Embassy fires and vowed to defend the sacred flame after the site was cleared late Tuesday afternoon.

More than 50 police officers descended on south Brisbane's Musgrave Park in a midnight raid to remove a group of Indigenous activists who re-lit a sacred flame at the park overnight.

Despite previous reports that Brisbane City Council Mayor Graham Quirk and Aboriginal elders were in agreement that the camp should be moved, police arrived at the park just after midnight to negotiate with an angry group of protestors fighting to stay at the site.

Many of the young protestors indicated their willingness to be arrested as they surrounded the sacred fire when confronted by police.

One young activist who was arrested in the May Musgrave Park protests, Bo Spearim, was once again at the park and claimed to have relit the fire.

“I’ll stand up for what I believe in,” Mr Spearim said.

“It’s something that had to be done.”

He said the original sovereign owner, Shannon Ruska, had given the small group permission to relight the fire, despite a delegation of elders agreeing to and overseeing a peaceful cleanup of the site on Tuesday afternoon.

“The elders don’t speak for the whole community. We are staying and the fire is still going to be lit,” Mr Spearim said.

A Brisbane City Council spokesman told the protesters to move on from the site or police would move them on by force.

By about 12.30am, police had surrounded the camp and pulled protestors away from the fire, making several arrests.

Among those arrested was Wayne Wharton, who was arrested in the protests earlier this year when police moved in to evict protesters in the lead up to the annual Paniyiri Greek festival.

Under police guard, fire fighters then moved in to extinguish the first of two fires while Brisbane City Council workers removed bedding and firewood.

One protestor was permitted to remove some of the sacred fire’s embers before it was hosed down by fire fighters.

One woman, who wished to be only known as Karen, said she had been at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy site all afternoon, and said she was unimpressed with the police presence.

"We will still rebuild, we'll wait until everyone can get together again," she said.

Earlier on Tuesday afternoon the Aboriginal tent embassy had been closed down after Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk withdrew official consent for protesters to continue inhabiting the Musgrave Park site.

The development came in response to requests from local indigenous leaders, who had raised concerns about the embassy's ongoing presence in the park.

A delegation of elders joined Cr Quirk in Musgrave Park late Tuesday afternoon as Uncle Des Sandy, of the Yuggera people, formally requested the protesters move on.

He said the elders agreed after Cr Quirk gave an undertaking a sacred fire burning in the campsite would not be interfered with.

Embassy spokesman Wayne Wharton said about 40 "warriors" had decided to re-light a fire at the site on Tuesday night, which includes coals from embassy fires in Moree and the original tent embassy in Canberra, and would stay put to guard it.

He said police officers and fire brigade units had begun gathering at the Musgrave Park site.

"The only thing we're missing now is the military," he said. "There are a number of warriors here that will defend it."

Mr Wharton said it was untrue that the city had the indigenous community's backing.

Mr Quirk said members of Brisbane's indigenous community had serious concerns about the site, including fears it lacked adult supervision and was becoming violent and choked with rubbish.

"This action is being taken strictly at the request of local elders," Mr Quirk said in a statement on Tuesday.

"We have a very good working relationship with Brisbane's indigenous community and if they tell me that the tent embassy has lost its way and needs to close, then I respect that decision."

Protesters have inhabited the park since earlier this year.

The site was thrown in to the spotlight in May when police moved in to evict protesters in the lead up to the annual Paniyiri Greek festival (see the pictures here).

Cr Quirk eventually gave permission for the embassy to remain in another section of the park in the wake of angry protests.