Aboriginal sovereignty: 60,000+ years versus 223 years

Pitching camp for a cultural cause

Amy Remeikis Sydney Morning Herald 1st April 2012

Nestled among the Bunya Nut trees in a place where people have come together for centuries, sits a small, neat camp site.

A fire sits has been built in the centre of the tent circle and the flames slowly warm a pot. A short distance away, a toddler, watched by two women, enthusiastically plays in a washing bucket filled with water.

The camp is clean and tidy with nothing out of place. There is an area for sleeping, one for food preparation and another for gathering.

Nothing unusual.

Except that it is in one of Brisbane's inner city parks and its founders say it is there to stay.

The Musgrave Park tent embassy is in its third week, its founding inspired by the 40th anniversary of the tent embassy on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra.

The movement is spreading across the country with similar embassies having been established in regional Victoria and Perth, with another due to open in Moree this week and at least one planned for Sydney.

Organiser Karen Coghill said establishing the Brisbane tent embassy had been a "spiritual" experience, the first step in reclaiming a culture she said was rapidly vanishing.

"From day one of invasion, we have had to contend with this system that does not even recognise us as people," she said.

"We are looking at 60,000 plus years versus 200 years of occupation. Are we willing to just lie down and die?

"There is nothing that signifies that Aboriginal people live in Australia. What is there? A bit of graffiti. A couple of flags flying. Immigrants have more rights here than the Aboriginal people."

As Ms Coghill spoke, the sounds of multiculturalism washed through Musgrave Park; noise from the nearby Greek Club mixed with the raised voices of an arguing Italian couple passing by, combining with the sound of a guitar being casually strummed inside the camp.

Ms Coghill, who identified herself as one of the Yuggera people, said the tent embassy movement was gaining momentum, as more Aboriginal people, across all clans, joined the sovereign rights movement.

"We have identified Musgrave Park as a meeting place for many years and yet we haven't even got one bit of shelter here," Ms Coghill said.

"We have to forcibly demonstrate to the wider public that we've got nothing." Ms Coghill said it was a place of harmony, where all views were respected and alcohol and drugs were banned.

Ms Coghill said she viewed the embassy as a "half way point" where all Aboriginal people were welcome to reclaim their culture and the public was invited to learn more.

The embassy founders said they had been in contact with the local TAFE to discuss cross-culture awareness education and welcomed all opportunities to speak to the community about their objectives.

"We have Chinatown in every city; we have no Aboriginal town," Ms Coghill said.

"We have no Aboriginal park, not even a gazebo dedicated to an indigenous person in the area.

"Our schools teach education but they don't educate the wider public about the truth of this land. There is a spirituality attached to this land.

"It would only benefit all of us if we embraced one another's culture instead of just trying to stamp out one for the other."

Musgrave Park has long been acknowledged as one of the main meeting places for Aborigines who occupied south-east Queensland.

"And even more recent, after children were taken from their parents, when people were free from custody, they knew to come here," Ms Coghill said.

"It is where they began their search for their people."