A very fragile (and very poignant) national treasure that almost never sees the light of day will get a rare and brief excursion at the National Archives of Australia Tuesday. It is a petition 3.3 metres long with 1000 signatures and inked thumbprints (pictured above) with which in 1972 the Larrakia people of northern Australia asked for Queen Elizabeth to intervene in their struggles for land rights.
Larrakia people camped outside Government House in Darwin on 15 October, 1972, trying to present the petition to the visiting Princess Margaret to pass on to her big sister. As they tried in vain to bustle through a police barricade it was torn. Two days later it was sent to Buckingham Palace with an apology for its poor condition.
The handwritten preamble, sounding both demanding and desperate, reads: ''GWALA DARANIKI! THIS IS OUR LAND! The British settlers took our land. No treaties were signed with the tribes. Today we are REFUGEES. Refugees in the country of our ancestors. We live in REFUGEE CAMPS - without land, without employment, without justice. The British crown signed TREATIES with the Maoris in New Zealand and the Indians in North America. We appeal to the Queen to help us, the Aboriginal people of Australia. We need land rights and representation now.''
The petition is coming out for the National Archives Northern Territory Aboriginal Advisory Group, visiting Canberra.
Did this scruffy but touching document ever land on the Queen's desk?
Did she read it?
Did it stir any feelings in her heart?
If she read it, did she ever, with altruism, raise the subject of it with her loyal government in Australia?
Did the Larrakia, for their part, really imagine that someone so regal, foreign and aloof would give their plight a second's thought?