What is the Brisbane Sovereign Embassy? ABC Report

Amy Simmons ABC Online May 18, 2012

Protesters march through South Brisbane after the Aboriginal tent embassy was dismantled.

Photo: Protesters march through South Brisbane after the Aboriginal tent embassy in Musgrave Park was dismantled by police on May 16, 2012. (ABC News: Amy Simmons)

The removal of an Aboriginal tent embassy from Brisbane's Musgrave Park on Wednesday was met with defiance, anger, tears and frustration. Hundreds of police surrounded the campsite at dawn, shutting it down to make way for a Greek festival to be held at the park this weekend. As emotions ran high, dozens were arrested and charged.

The group is now camped at the Jagera Arts Hall, a sacred Aboriginal site only metres up the road from Musgrave Park.But the embassy's eviction has left a big question mark over just who was involved and what they were protesting about. The Brisbane Sovereign Embassy, as it is formally known, was set up at Musgrave Park in early March and held its official opening ceremony on March 24.

It was part of a nationwide movement inspired by the 40th anniversary of Canberra's Aboriginal Tent Embassy in January. Brisbane's was the third embassy to be set up, after Canberra and Perth, and is now one of seven in place around Australia.

Map: Aboriginal tent embassies around Australia, according to the National Unity Government website.

Organisers say the movement, which aims to "protect Aboriginal people's rights to sovereignty", is gaining momentum. A statement made by the Brisbane embassy on March 25, 2012, said the embassy was designed to act as a "consultation station for Aborigines to talk about any problems they've faced as an Australian Aborigine". Here is an excerpt from the statement:

  • The aim of The Sovereign Embassy is on a state-wide campaign, to order all state parliaments to recognise that Aboriginal community as tribes, to acknowledge all tribal nations to treaty with the local Yaggara people and with each other, also to protect Aboriginal people’s rights to Sovereignty possession and occupation and enjoyment of the lands and waters and everything associated with the Original Tribes.
  • The movement also asks all Original Sovereign Nations who become part of the National Unity Government will be encouraged to challenge, within the domestic courts of the invader society, to seek a declaration by the Australia courts confirming that Aboriginal people’s sovereignty cannot be dealt with within Australia jurisdiction. As Aboriginal people have been lied to, cheated, deceived and imprisoned just because they were Aboriginal people, all in the name of "protection".
  • Aboriginal people also stated that they have been kept in a welfare state and refused economic development that will enable them to become financially independent. They said that the health and survival of the Original tribes depends on preservation of sites or objects of spiritual significance. Their liberty too, may have a spiritual dimension.
  • The Aboriginal community have also pointed out that the desecration of their sacred sites and obstructing tribal hunting rights is in contravention of the United Nations Resolution 2625 (xxv): The principal of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.
  • The Aboriginal people said that they will keep the Embassy open as long as it is needed, until they can gain their rights back to live in Australia as tribes.

Read the full statement here

ABC News Online spoke to people who live in the tent embassy, and others who have come from far and wide to lend their support.Their reasons for being there are mixed, but ultimately, all want the government to do more for Aboriginal rights. They also say Musgrave Park is their land to live on.

'Better country'

Kaylah Tyson, 24, has been living at the Musgrave Park embassy for months. She says she is there to make a stand.

Brisbane Sovereign Embassy member Kaylah Tyson
Photo: Kaylah Tyson, Brisbane Sovereign Embassy member (ABC: Amy Simmons)

I think people think sovereignty is us trying to get rid of everybody that is not Aboriginal from the land and that's totally not what we're about. Basically it's in the white man's law that we are recognised as sovereign people and we do not fall under that law, so we are here to make sure that everybody knows that, and all we want to do is make a better country for everybody to live in. - Kaylah Tyson

'Getting worse'

Cynthia Ivey says she came to Brisbane to support her "brothers and sisters who are doing the right thing".

Cynthia Ivey, supporter of the Brisbane Sovereign Embassy
Photo: Cynthia Ivey, supporter of the Brisbane Sovereign Embassy (ABC: Amy Simmons)

It's just like when they first came over and planted the flag and claimed it, it's just the same thing that's happened 200 years ago, and it's just taken us this long to actually get up and say it.It's sad, it shouldn't have come this far - the politicians should have sat down and really listened, they brought it all onto themselves now and its only going to get worse. - Cynthia Ivey

'Justice and community'

Robert and Sylvia Harper spent eight weeks in the Canberra embassy before shifting to Brisbane.They say the sovereign movement is about justice and "sticking up for what we've got".

Robert and Sylvia Harper, members of the Aboriginal tent embassy movement

Photo: Robert and Sylvia Harper, members of the Aboriginal tent embassy movement (ABC: Amy Simmons)

We want justice for all sectors of the community.Campbell Newman and what's his name - Lord Mayor Mr Quirk - they failed to show me that they're a part of any community. Everybody's got to focus on trying to ascertain justice in all sectors of the community. - Robert Harper

'Full support'

David Black, 26, is a supporter of the movement. He was arrested on Wednesday for scaling a fence to reach his friends in Musgrave Park.

David Black, 26, supports the Brisbane Sovereign Embassy
Photo: David Black, 26, supports the Brisbane Sovereign Embassy (ABC: Amy Simmons)

I'm going to follow them wherever they go. I'm going to stay with them.I'm supporting their cause because it's their land and we took it from them, it's a sacred site and we need to endorse their sovereign rights and I'm there to fully support them in any way I can. - David Black

Video: Brisbane Sovereign Embassy official opening on March 24, 2012