NAIDOC Week Information
National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC)
Early in the 20th century Aboriginal rights groups boycotted Australia Day (26 January) in protest against the status and treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. By the 1920s, these groups were increasingly aware that the broader Australian public were largely ignorant of the boycotts. If the movement were to make progress, it would need to be active.
On Australia Day, 1938, protestors marched through the streets of Sydney, followed by a congress attended by over a thousand people. One of the first major civil rights gatherings in the world, it was known as the Day of Mourning.
From 1940 until 1955, the Day of Mourning was held annually on the Sunday before Australia Day and was known as Aborigines Day. In 1955 Aborigines Day was shifted to the first Sunday in July after it was decided the day should become not simply a protest day but also a celebration of Aboriginal culture.
In 1956 major Aboriginal organisations, state and federal governments, and a number of church groups all supported the formation of, the National Aborigines Day Observance Committee (NADOC). At the same time, the second Sunday in July became a day of remembrance for Aboriginal people and their heritage. In 1975 it was decided that the event should cover a week, from the first to second Sunday in July.
With a growing awareness of the distinct cultural histories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, NADOC was expanded to recognise Torres Strait Islander people and culture. The committee then became known as the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC). This new name has become the title for the whole week, not just the day. Each year, a theme is chosen to reflect the important issues and events for NAIDOC Week. The 2012 NAIDOC Week celebrations is: Spirit of the Tent Embassy: 40 years on.
‘Spirit of the Tent Embassy: 40 years on’
January 26, 2012 marked the 40th anniversary of the Tent Embassy. The anniversary was a significant milestone both for Aboriginal people and for our nation’s history. Its existence over the past 40 years has seen it become an icon of Aboriginal political rights and struggles and has become a national icon for all Australians.
The Aboriginal Tent Embassy was founded on Australia Day in 1972 to protest the decision by the McMahon Liberal government to reject a proposal for Aboriginal Land rights. The government instead planned to implement a lease system, conditional on the ability of Indigenous people to make economic and social use of the land, and excluding rights to mineral and forestry resources.
Four Indigenous activists - Michael Anderson, Billy Craigie, Bertie Williams and Tony Coorey - setup the protest at 1.00am under a beach umbrella on the lawns of Old Parliament House. The movement quickly gained traction, with more and more tents being erected and numbers at one point reached 2,000.
On July 20, after the Government modified a law relating to trespass on Commonwealth lands, Police moved in and forcibly dismantled the embassy. After a series of clashes between protesters and police, on September 12 1972 the ACT Supreme Court ruled against the use of the trespass laws, and the embassy was symbolically re-erected before being removed the following morning.
It was re-established in 1974 and remained there until activist Charles Perkins negotiated its removal pending the enactment of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act in 1976. While it occupied several other sites around Canberra, including the site of the current Parliament House, it did not return to its original setting until 1992, when it was erected to mark the 20th anniversary of the original protest.
Moving beyond its original brief of land rights, the embassy has served as a focal point for the broader Indigenous movement, and in 1995 it was listed on the Register of the National Estate as a site that represented the political struggle of all Indigenous Australians.
Given its position in the nation’s capital, the Embassy has also become a place where non-Indigenous Australians and international visitors first meet and talk with Aboriginal people to learn firsthand about their history.
The Sacred Fire for Peace and Justice was first made by Arabunna Elder Kevin Buzzacott and lit by Wiradjuri man Paul Coe in 1998. The Fire provides spiritual healing and inspiration. The guardians of the Sacred Fire (those who live at the Embassy) continue to fuel the fire and ensure a continual supply of wood remains on the grounds. The fire is also used for smoking ceremonies, which are an important healing process and integral to the spiritual component of the Embassy.