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Tent row provoked but regretted

Fellow Coast Aborigine Mark Sidaway of Coolum, who spent Australia Day with 15 kids playing cricket in the rain, said there wasn't a great feeling about the occasion of the day among indigenous people.
Fellow Coast Aborigine Mark Sidaway of Coolum, who spent Australia Day with 15 kids playing cricket in the rain, said there wasn't a great feeling about the occasion of the day among indigenous people. Chris Ison

SUNSHINE Coast Aborigines say they have been "a little bit embarrassed" by the Tent Embassy protest which led to the Prime Minister being rushed away by security staff on Australia Day.

But leading Coast lawyer Glen Ferguson said the Tent Embassy in Canberra remained a powerful symbol of the fight by Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders for recognition - and a subject Opposition leader Tony Abbott should have avoided.

Mr Ferguson, a member of the national panel that has recommended constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, said Mr Abbott should have stuck with the positives rather than go to the Tent Embassy issue.

"It was not an appropriate time to say it,'' he said.

"I can't see what it's done to enhance relationships. It's been there since the early 1970s. We should be celebrating going forward."

However Mr Abbott said yesterday he had never said anything that meant the tent embassy should be moved or torn down.

In the interview that sparked the protest, his exact words were: "I think the indigenous people of Australia can be very proud of the respect in which they are held by every Australian and yes, I think a lot has changed since then and I think it is probably time to move on from that".

Bev Hand, who runs the annual Bunya Aboriginal Festival in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, said bus loads of Aborigines had travelled from Queensland to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Tent Embassy.

She said she had been "a little bit embarrassed" about what transpired.

Mrs Hand said the negative imagery would set the cause of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples back a decade at a time when enormous progress was being made.

She also had some advice for the PM's security detail, saying it had not made good sense to drag her out into the middle of the crowd.

"That was a poor call," she said.

Fellow Coast Aborigine Mark Sidaway of Coolum, who spent Australia Day with 15 kids playing cricket in the rain, said there wasn't a great feeling about the occasion of the day among indigenous people.

"I'm not proud that they (protesters) went to those steps but they were incited by the nature of the day,'' he said.

Topics:  prime minister protest tent embassy



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