This afternoon I visited the Aboriginal Tent Embassy for the first time.
I’d just come from a conference across the street at the National Library of Australia, and the last presentation was Dr Bill Pascoe on his Colonial Frontiers Massacres Map. I responded with a question about artistic and cultural responses to the map. And then I paused and thought about the lines that tend to mark my visits to Canberra, and how I’d never made the time to visit the Embassy. It was right there, right across the road.
I left the Library, crossed the road, walked past the vast empty basins of the dry fountains, through the grassy field, said hello, and asked if I could visit their country.
George Villaflor and his family welcomed me and invited me to sit. We talked about where our people come from, and the long journeys that many people have taken to visit and stay at the Embassy.
I was led to the fire and offered a branch so that I could be smoked and pay my respects. The fire has been burning here on Ngunnawal country for over thirty years. It was carried by foot from Lake Eyre.
George and I got talking afterwards about a lot of mutual colleagues and friends. We talked about the current political climate and the need for clear air to hear the truth. We talked about the limitations of the Native Title Act (he’s an Aboriginal barrister, I’m a long lapsed law student who’s studied it in great detail). We talked about the amazinf Terri Janke, about artists’ livings, copyright and Indigenous cultural IP, fake ‘Aboriginal-style’ art and artists we admire.
As I was heading off, George told me that he’d taken some photographs while I was visiting, and we exchanged details so that he could send them to me. I know we’ve got plenty more to talk about when next we meet.
All photographs by George Villaflor.