Alice Keath and Margo Neale with music by Slava and Leonard Grigoryan, produced by ABC Classic, 2021
ALICE KEATH: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander listeners are advised that the following program contains voices of people who have died.
Objects and stories from Australian life.
MULTIPLE VOICES: This is us.
LEONARD GRIGORYAN: Placard.
MARGO NEALE: This object is your classical placard, handwritten in black and white. It’s a white background with black words that say ‘We want land rights, right now’. And ‘right now’ is done in larger letters. It's poster size and it was one of many posters that were outside the Tent Embassy in 1972.
ALICE KEATH: That’s Margo Neale, Head of the Centre for Indigenous Knowledges at the National Museum of Australia. This land rights placard becomes a way in to think about the history of First Nations people in Australia, their ongoing fight for land rights.
MARGO NEALE: It's a very important object at the time and on reflection because now we're talking about sovereignty. It does show a progression, we were talking about land rights then because we were included in the census in 1967 through a referendum and then we didn't actually get counted until 1971. There was a bit of a time lag and similarly why the Tent Embassy was up in 1972 was just to say 'Look, hurry along you mates. You promised all this stuff. Where is it? We're going to stake our claim here and yell loud and long for as long as we have to.'
Of course as you know it's now 2021 and there’s still a Tent Embassy outside the front of the Old Parliament House that no one would dare move. We have come a long way in that sense. This placard can represent that moment in history – the Tent Embassy which then grew into many other moments which were later bridge walks and so on. Prior to that of course is the December 1976 where the Federal Parliament passed the Aboriginal Land Rights Act but in the Northern Territory. That was in fact the first legislation in Australia that enabled First Nations people to claim rights for land where traditional custodianship or ownership could be proven, and that's another whole story.
It’s a small object with a huge impact. We can talk about how the Tent Embassy came about, how it start off as just a beach umbrella, a card table, and a little tent from someone's garage in Canberra with three, four young fellas there. Then how it grew into a movement.
When you reflect [even though people so many do that it’s slow] from that point to this point it’s been pretty fast given the intensity. Centuries in fact that went before of suppressing – not only suppressing us, trying to get rid of us [audio of protestors and police].
Paddy wagons were appearing and people being chucked into them. All sorts of that stuff was going on. We didn’t have a lot of rights then to defend ourselves from that kind of behaviour but somehow we’re still there. It's almost like a parallel to ‘We’re still here’. We never ceded sovereignty. This is our land. You try to get rid of the Tent Embassy and all of us since 1972 and it’s still there and we’re still here. It represents a powerful symbol of Aboriginal voice and agency.
ALICE KEATH: That's Margot Neale and here is the Gregorian brothers musical response to this object it's called Our Land.
[‘Our Land’ played by Leonard and Slava Grigoryan]
ALICE KEATH: ‘Our Land’ written and performed by the Grigoryan Brothers. I’m Alice Keath and This is us: A musical reflection of Australia was commissioned by the National Museum of Australia to mark their 20th anniversary. Head to the ABC Classic website to view the objects, find out more and buy the Grigoryan Brothers album featuring all of the music in the project.
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Date published: 09 March 2021