Lease of 'own land' was impetus for campaign
It was pitch black in the earliest hours of the morning the minute the tent embassy was born.
About 1am on January 26, 1972, four Aboriginal men from Sydney had pitched a beach umbrella on the lawns of Old Parliament House and waited for the sun to rise so they could declare a new ''embassy'' for Canberra.
The Koori men - Billie Craigie, Tony Coorie, Michael Anderson and Bert Williams - claimed to be ''aliens in our own land'' after the federal government of the day announced a land rights policy suggesting Aboriginal people take out 50-year leases on land parcels they believed already belonged to them.
A mate of the crew, Aboriginal activist Chicka Dixon, later said the men decided that if their country would not treat them fairly, they would establish an embassy to fight for their rights as foreigners.
''I ... joined them on the Friday. The Member for the ACT, Kep Enderby, informed me that there was no legislation under the federal Act to remove campers, so we put up eight tents and gave ourselves portfolios,'' he said.
''A dear, kind lady from Canberra gave us a big blue tent which became the official tent embassy.
''Like all embassies we needed a flag, so Harold Thomas, [designer of the Aboriginal flag] from Adelaide, gave us his flag to fly.''
The creation of the tent embassy became the trigger for what would become a controversial 40-year campaign for Aboriginal rights.
Politicians condemned the moves, afraid it would represent Australia as having policies ''kindred to apartheid''.
In July of that year the government tried to get rid of the site, clashing with up to 1000 demonstrators in what was then described as ''one of the most violent confrontations ever experienced in Canberra''.
The embassy was pulled down by authorities and re-established by demonstrators time and time again, moving from Old Parliament House to an army corporal's home in Red Hill, across to Capital Hill and back to its roots at Old Parliament House.
The tent embassy has recorded several victories with the creation of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, the negotiation of an Aboriginal rights treaty and a National Heritage Listing that made the camp the only nationally recognised site for the political struggle of Aboriginal people.