Canberra Tales: Two huts of protest

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If you happen to be driving past the South African Embassy in Canberra, you may notice a lonely and disused sentry box on the corner near the entrance to the embassy and its residence.

Today this corner of Canberra is very quiet and most people drive by without giving any thought to the place this site has in Canberra’s history of protests.

Back in the late eighties if you were driving along this section of State Circle you would have seen a hut that was used as the staging point for protests against the then apartheid state of South Africa. Most of the time there was standing protest but there were also the occasional more active and noisy moments when the protesters made sure that those inside the South African Embassy were hearing their voices.

Across the road now stands the guardhouse that today seems to serve no purpose at all given that so much has changed since the early 1990s announcements of the end of apartheid in South Africa.

The protesters’ hut, which was built by the local union movement, then made its way down to become a prime focal point for the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in front of Old Parliament House. For a while there were two huts on the lawns until one of them was destroyed by fire in 2004. I do not remember whether the people responsible were ever caught.

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Today a hut remains on the site but it no longer has the same role as most of the activity now takes place behind it down on the next landing.

It is significant that in this country where protests are part of our heritage, and the need to guard official property continues in all forms, that these two huts or boxes stand there representing key parts of the heritage of protests in Canberra.

Should these huts be placed on the heritage list?

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This is part of an occasional series, Canberra Tales, offering short stories, mostly true but including many urban myths, about intriguing aspects of Canberra. As with any story telling, we welcome other variations, accurate or otherwise, to these tales.

also published on RiotACT

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Paul Costigan

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