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Atom Free Embassy

Atom Free Embassy in Canberra
Atom Free Embassy in Canberra
Photo: John Englart

Although it was a small group in the 1981 Ride Against Uranium, there was great dedication. A permanent camp was setup on the parliament House Lawns called the Atom Free Embassy. It persisted through the Canberra winter until 71 police attacked and dismantled the embassy on July 31st 1981, using a 1932 ordinance for only the second time, in scenes reminiscent of the removal of the Aboriginal Embassy in July 1972.

The Atom Free Embassy was originally established by Friends of the Earth (FoE) outside the HIFAR reactor at Lucas Heights, southern Sydney in 1976 (after the 1976 bike ride). It was located in the bush between the compound fence and the main road, near the official visitors centre. The embassy consisted of tents and a geodesic dome loaned from the Down to Earth Confest organisation, vegetable gardens, and displays of solar and wind power and other alternate energy sources.

After visiting the AAEC visitors centre quite a few tourists would wander down and read the case against nuclear power and uranium mining. In mid 1977 the Atom Free Embassy camp was mysteriously burnt down. Ever since protesters have not been allowed to encamp on this stretch of crown land, but have been forced over the other side of the road.

At the end of May 1981 seven cadets from the Duntroon Military College

raided the anti-uranium tent embassy on the lawns in front of Parliament House, ostensibly to take some banners as souvenirs, General Jack Kelly said. One of them was caught by the anti-uranium protestors and handed over to the police. The cadets were forced to hand the banners back. No action was taken, leading to criticism in Federal Parliament about one set of laws for the people, and one for army officer cadets. (SMH 19/6/1981 p12)

The Sydney Morning Herald (August 6, 1981) reported the eviction:

The Atom Free Embassy outside Parliament House in Canberra has been reduced to a lone, shivering protestor, Mr Joe Wacher of Springwood, who is defying winter and some unfriendly attention from the Federal Police.

The embassy's caravan and tents were removed by police from the parliamentary lawn last Friday under an ACT ordinance which prohibits camping on unleased Commonwealth land.

Three protestors "reoccupied the area in the early hours of Saturday morning, and have since been flying the Eureka and anti-uranium flags in shifts.

After its eviction from Parliament House lawns in 1981 the Atom Free Embassy, once again, became an itinerant protest, but it had already spawned another idea: a World Bike ride for Peace, Disarmament and a Nuclear Free Future, which later became known as the Woobora tribe. I was there when the idea of an epic anti-nuclear bike ride to Darwin was discussed, but never participated.

The Atom Free Embassy travelled to Melbourne to protest outside the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in October.

Then it encamped a one week vigil 7-14 October 1981 in Martin Place in Sydney and the World Heritage Council meeting at the Opera House.

Afterwards, it went to Adelaide to launch a boycott of BP, and even appeared outside the UN building in New York. It used these events to promote the 6,000 km ride from Canberra to Darwin, via Brisbane, Townsville and Mt Isa: the start of the World Bike Ride.

Sources: Canberra Times, Sydney Morning Herald, Chain Reaction

Photo: Joe Wacher upholding the Atom Free Embassy
Keeping the Embassy flag flying.
Photo: SMH

Photo: Atom Free Embassy
Atom Free Embassy at the 1981 Federal Budget protests, August 20, 1981

Photo: Atom Free Embassy in Martin Place, Sydney
Atom Free Embassy in Sydney 7-14 Oct, 1981.

Photo: Atom Free Embassy in Martin Place, Sydney
Atom Free Embassy in Sydney 7-14 Oct, 1981.

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