In 1972 a group of radical black power activists stuck an umbrella on the lawn outside Parliament House and changed Indigenous politics forever
Gary Foley, in the words of artist Richard Bell, is a rock star of the Aboriginal protest movement.
These days he is more likely to be found teaching history at Victoria University, but 40 years ago he was a long-haired whippersnapper with a microphone and a major figure behind the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. The embassy, which was first assembled by activists on the lawn of Parliament House in Canberra in 1972, still exists today, representing Indigenous Australias ongoing struggle for land rights and self-determination.
In 2013 Bell made a tribute to the embassy that has been touring the world. It is a green canvas tent bearing painted signs: White invaders you are living on stolen land and If you cant let me live Aboriginal why preach democracy. During the opening weekend of the Sydney Biennale in March it was erected on the foreshore of Sydneys Museum of Contemporary Art, hosting panel discussions and screening documentaries such as Ningla A-Na (1972) and The Redfern Story (2014) which examine the tent embassys legacy.
Surrounded by some of Sydneys most expensive real estate, where foreign tourists mill about and snap photos of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, it is an incongruous smudge of black protest on a rigorously polished facade.
Foley is one of Bells headline guests and dresses with the muted cool of an elder statesman of rock: head-to-toe in black, including a black leather jacket, denim jeans and leather boots. He speaks to the audience without notes, in long, angry and affecting polemics about the endless struggles of the black rights movement in Australia. If he were a musician these would be his guitar solos, and he plays them with Jimi Hendrix-style conviction and flair.