Activist and actor Bob Maza addresses a protest at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in front of Parliament House on July 30, 1972. Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA
A piece by Bronwyn Carlson and Lynda-June Coe in the Conversation, A short history of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy – an indelible reminder of unceded sovereignty, took my mind back.
The Tent Embassy began on 26 January 1972. I was working in Treasury at the time, just across from the Embassy. I frequently walked past it on my walks or when visiting Parliament House. The thing that stands out in my memory now is that I had no idea of its significance. There was a total void between me and the Embassy, a void of ignorance.
Growing up in Armidale, there were very few Aboriginal people. The big influx began about 1956 with in-migration, leading to the creation of an Aboriginal camp on the town dump. I remember that, I remember the creation of the reserve, the last created by the old Aboriginal Welfare Board. I remember the construction of new galvanised homes leading to the application of the name Silver City. I remember some of the activities carried out through Chirch and University groups to try to improve conditions. I knew some of the older families by name. I even knew some Aboriginal history up to the European invasion and had read anthropological and historical studies. I had heard a young Charles Perkins speak to UNE students at a crowded UNE Union meeting. And yet I knew nothing about certain key aspects of Aboriginal history post 1788.
At the time, discussion on Aboriginal issues tended to be dominated on one side by Northern Australia, on the other by the emerging interest in massacres and frontier violence. I already knew a little about the second, but there was nothing on post frontier warfare Aboriginal history in NSW and especially in Northern NSW where my particular interests lay.
In 1966 when I read Malcolm Calley's thesis on the Bandjalung I was interested and surprised by the continued existence of Aboriginal culture including language, but I had no context to set that into.
It would be a number of years before my own research started to paint a picture, more years before I actually met a large number of Aboriginal people through my work with the NSW Aboriginal Housing Office. And yet, even now, I don't think that we have a basic foundation text on Aboriginal history at least so far as NSW is concerned. I think that's a problem.