On 26 January 1972 a tent appeared on the lawn in front of Parliament House, Canberra, manned initially by four young Aborigines, Michael Anderson, Billy Craigie, Gary Williams and Tony Coorey. The latter conceived the brilliant idea of calling it the Aboriginal Embassy. This calico tent, which remained for six months before being ripped down by the Commonwealth police under the direction of the Liberal-Country Party government, was a dramatic symbol of the protest of the black community against control by those in the massive white building opposite.
Aborigines from all over the country came to help staff the Embassy. The protectors claimed extensive areas of reserve and crown land throughout Australia and demanded financial compensation of six billion dollars, plus an annual percentage of the gross national income. Such demands would have been greeted with laughter by many Australians in the 1960s, but in the 1970s they have been seriously debated and partially fulfilled.
The Embassy marked in three ways a new direction in Aboriginal affairs. Firstly it reflected the emerging pan-Aboriginal feeling of the 1970s. As Chicka Dixon declared in 1972: ‘As long as I breathe I'm black … of course we down south haven't got our culture, we haven't got our language, but we have the feeling that we belong … we're black Australians.’ 1 Wesley Wagner Lanhupuy from Galiwinku (Elcho Island) in the Northern Territory stated at a National Land Rights conference in Sydney in 1977: ‘Aborigines—whether urban or tribal—who have a spiritual awareness of themselves as Aborigines and identify themselves as Aborigines are Aborigines’. 2 Secondly, the Embassy marked a switch to more direct protest methods. This followed from the unsuccessful land rights appeal to the court by the Yirrkala people of Gove: Justice Blackburn had ruled in 1971 that the Aborigines had no right to the land and that ownership resided with the Crown. Thirdly, the Embassy revealed the growth of a young and assertive Aboriginal leadership willing to take to the streets and to use the tactics of mass protest.