Singer front for a government overthrow in '72: ASIO

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A young John Farnham

Treaty Republic previously reported that an Aboriginal organization which was the auspicing body for any funds raised for the 40th Tent Embassy anniversary had its computers hacked before the event.

Also, intelligence that emerged from Elders before the anniversary corroboree revealed a move to destroy Michael Anderson and the Aboriginal Sovereignty movement.

Now the Sydney Morning Herald has reported ASIO files disclosing that even the well known singer John Farnham was spied upon because he supported the 1972 Tent Embassy.

Give me shelter ... the first tent embassy "settlers" in Canberra and indigenous rights' protests were spied on by ASIO.


1972 Tent Embassy Supporters

(Images:Sydney Morning Herald)

Farnham on ASIO's radar for Tent Embassy support

Andrew Taylor Sydney Morning Herald March 18th, 2012

John Farnham is known as The Voice, but not for subversive lyrics or revolutionary songs.

Yet the singer of hits including Sadie (The Cleaning Lady) came to the attention of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation in the 1970s as a potential supporter of the Aboriginal tent embassy, which the spy agency feared could have been a front for a Maoist-led, armed overthrow of the Australian government.

The report containing Farnham's name was unearthed by Haydn Keenan, curator of Under the Beach Umbrella, an exhibition of photographs and documents, compiled by ASIO, of people connected with the tent embassy and the fight for Aboriginal rights.

The exhibition, which opens on March 28 at the Sydney Opera House as part of the Message Sticks indigenous festival, features photographs of the tent embassy and meetings of university students and protest marches in Sydney.

Besides keeping tabs on indigenous activists such as Faith Bandler and Gary Foley, ASIO spied on individuals it considered opinion-makers, Keenan says. "They were concerned about environmentalists, feminists, folk singers and particularly journalists," he says.

But were they spying on Whispering Jack? Farnham's name appears in an ASIO report on a student meeting at the Australian National University, Canberra, in March 1972 that was addressed by the Aboriginal activists Michael Anderson and Denis Walker.

"Anderson announced that Johnny Farnham, the supporting star of 'Charlie Girl', would give a concert on the 26th March to raise funds for the 'embassy'," the report says.

Keenan says the words "to be indexed" would have appeared next to a subject's name if ASIO wanted to investigate further, which was not the case with Farnham.

"I certainly wouldn't call Farnham a folk singer, although someone high-profile like him at the time supporting the embassy would have been good for the embassy," he says.

Keenan says ASIO had spied on performers such as the Bushwackers, Margret RoadKnight and Jeannie Lewis.

Anderson was one of four Aboriginal men to establish the tent embassy in January 1972 by planting a beach umbrella in front of Old Parliament House after the then prime minister, William McMahon, refused to recognise Aboriginal land rights. He told The Sun-Herald the fund-raising concert did not take place, but added: "Farnham may have been interested in performing and lending some support."

The singer did not respond to The Sun-Herald's inquiries about whether or not he had supported the tent embassy and the fight for indigenous land rights, or if ASIO had spied on him. A National Archives of Australia spokeswoman, Melanie Harwood, said there was no record of a file on Farnham, after a search of ASIO's database.

Keenan has been accessing the spy agency's files as part of his research for an SBS television series, Persons of Interest, which shows individuals perusing their previously secret ASIO files. He says he was struck by the banality of the information gathered by ASIO.

"It's not James Bond," he says. "It's the Commonwealth bureaucracy. It's things typed in triplicate."

But there was a Kafkaesque element to the files, he says. "It proves the hypothesis that you are a suspect no matter what you do," he says. "They are like strange biographies written by someone who doesn't like you."

Keenan says the tent embassy and land rights' activists were supported by the Communist Party of Australia at a time when both major political parties supported the White Australia Policy.

"The CPA's anti-colonial policy and general support for indigenous people and their struggle for equity brought indigenous activists under the gaze of ASIO," he says. "The Aboriginal tent embassy was a significant concern."

The artistic director of Message Sticks, Rhoda Roberts, said that, while looking at surveillance shots of the tent embassy, she noticed her father in one photograph, with a number on his forehead, a sign that ASIO would target him.

She says ASIO's spies were "very Keystone Kops" and seemed to think that every black woman looked the same. "Every second black girl was labelled Bobbi Sykes. It's quite funny," she says.

Roberts, who is the new head of indigenous programming at the Opera House, sees a silver lining in the dark cloud of ASIO's files, which she says are invaluable.

"In a way they're a wonderful thing because they archived the reality and the truth. History was being documented and it really focuses on the people who were there."