Media 'missed main event'

Bugjalung spokesperson Robert Corowa
Bugjalung spokesperson Robert Corowa Jacklyn Wagner

ACTIVISTS from the Northern Rivers have criticised media coverage of a protest on Australia Day that led to Prime Minister Julia Gillard being jostled and losing her shoe.

Around 100 people from the Northern Rivers travelled to Canberra last week to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.

Some of the activists gathered again yesterday around a sacred fire at the home of Bundjalung spokesman Robert Corowa.

Mr Corowa said he was disappointed media attention had focused on Ms Gillard's lost shoe, instead of the three-day Corroboree for Sovereignty.

"Everyone was there for the same reason - to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy - which is the only true voice of Aboriginal people in Australia," he said.

Images of Ms Gillard fleeing the protest made international headlines, but Mr Corowa said this was the fault of her security staff, not protesters.

"There was no violence on our side but we were violated a couple of times," he said.

"A friend of mine who is a dancer from Stradbroke Island was pushed in the face by the police."

Al Oshlack, who works for the Indigenous Justice Advocacy Network in Lismore, said it was "terrible" to see the Prime Minister being jostled.

"There ought to be some inquiry into how lax the security was because no-one was there to hurt anyone and none of the protesters were arrested because there was no criminal damage."

The activists took a chai tent to the embassy and Mr Oshlack said it became the focus of celebrations.

"The support from the North Coast community was amazing. We fed everyone virtually three meals a day and everybody looked after all the old people."

Lismore resident Binnie O'Dwyer took her two children to the tent embassy and described it as a "kid-friendly and safe space".

"The protest was five minutes out of three or four days of celebrations and great music," she said.

Mr Corowa said the tent embassy remains an important symbol of the ongoing fight for Aboriginal rights in Australia.

"The bottom line is as the first people of Australia we should be treated with a little bit more respect," he said.

"We own this land - we've been here for 40,000 years - and we're not going away."

Topics:  australia day julia gillard protest

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