Invasion Day Embassy - A powerful symbol of strength

2012 'Invasion Day' was broadly reported by Australia's racist media in an overwhelmingly innacurate manner. Even the 'ABC', followed with the same hog-wash.

However the media coverage did saturate Australia and even the 'Original's' living in extremely remote communities saw their brothers and sisters standing strong for their rights.

Nicole Watson wrote an article on 'Tracker' recently - reflecting on the importance of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, and why Australia should revere it.

As long as we have youth, we still have hope

Nicole Watson Tracker 4th April 2012

The media's portrayal of events at the Aboriginal Embassy on Invasion Day were so disturbing that it's taken me some months to process my thoughts.

I felt anger, disillusionment and hurt. Most of all however, I was stunned. How could a day that was both a solemn reminder of warriors no longer with us, and a celebration of our resilience, be treated with such derision?

Although it was hard to distinguish between the various beat-ups, The Australian stood out for its contempt.

The most offensive story published in The Australian was a piece by Joe Kelly, which described the Embassy as an "illegal slum".

The very use of the words "illegal" and "slum" suggested that it had no value, that it should be demolished for the "common good". In reality, however, the Embassy remains important to all Australians, because it has become a litmus test of our character.

The Embassy is a powerful symbol of the strength of Aboriginal people. On a personal level, I think of the Embassy as a living testament to the Australian Black Power movement.

To the uninformed, the words, "Black Power" carry violent overtones. In reality however, Black Power was about raising the self esteem of our communities, with the goal of being self-determining. Those young activists wore their Aboriginality with pride, creating a massive suture for the wounded psyches of so many of our people.

Gary Foley captured their impacts in a few words when he said of his contemporaries that they could, "beat the system. They could cope with it and counter it".

Those who identified with Australian Black Power often looked to the writings of their American counterparts, in order to find ways of beating the system.

When the young Koori activists in Redfern learnt about the American Black Panther Party's pig patrols, they adapted them to their own circumstances, in order to counter police violence.

They would go on to establish the Redfern Aboriginal Legal Service in 1970; the first of its kind in Australia. The Aboriginal Medical Service opened nearby the following year, providing free health care and initiatives such as the Breakfast for Children programme.

As distinct from earlier organisations, these services were led by Aboriginal people, which in itself was a radical step. Similar developments occurred in Melbourne and Brisbane, but it was the Embassy that brought those brilliant young warriors together.

Just as the Embassy casts a spotlight on our spirit, it similarly illuminates the moral decline of the Australian Labor Party. The Embassy galvanised many within the ALP to genuinely engage with the question of Aboriginal dispossession.

After visiting the Embassy in February 1972, then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam promised to deliver land rights, legislation to protect our civil rights and free legal aid. While those sentiments were not unanimous within the party, some Labor parliamentarians were outspoken in their support of the Embassy.

When the Minister for the Interior, Ralph Hunt foreshadowed an ordinance that would sanction the removal of the tents, 30 Labor parliamentarians pledged to physically defend them.

This Invasion Day however, the contrast could not have been bleaker. Julia Gillard made no attempt to make an appearance in order to pay homage, even though she attended a function only a few hundred metres away.

Had Opposition Leader Tony Abbott not made those unfortunate comments that sparked later events in the day, it's unlikely that our Prime Minister would have given the Embassy any thought at all.

It's not just the ALP that's abandoned its principles. When reading transcripts of interviews with those at the Embassy in the 1970s, one is struck by the diligence and on occasion, sincerity, of the journalists who grasped something of the Embassy's significance.

Today however, that understanding is long gone, a hostage to sensationalism and fleeting sound bites.

But the Embassy is not only for reminiscing about giants and lamenting the moral failings of our former friends. It is also a looking forward story.

This Invasion Day, I was struck by the sight of so many of our people in their late teens and early twenties.

Although born several years after 1972, they revere the Embassy and all that it has stood for. It was impossible not to be touched by their deference to the elders.

Just as palpable was their anger. It made me realise that for so long as our youth continue to go to the Embassy, we will have reason to hope.

Nicole Watson is a Murri lawyer and researcher with the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology, Sydney.