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Canberra Tales: Huts of protest

By Paul Costigan - 25 November 2015 5

SthAfricanBox-P1150066

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 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.

Have these structures been heritage listed?

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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.

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5 Responses to
Canberra Tales: Huts of protest
creative_canberran 1:46 pm 26 Nov 15

shellcase said :

I understand they were removed by the AFP when they considered the security risk to those premises reduced. As the international political situation changed, particularly with the collapse of the Soviet regime AFP reassessed the security risk to various missions and removed some of the huts.

Not to mention I think most PSOs would be more comfortable in a heated Commodore with leather seats than on a 1970s office chair in one of those things. The sentry boxes up on Parliament Drive are abandoned too, despite the need for security there in no way reducing.

shellcase 3:43 pm 25 Nov 15

I understand they were removed by the AFP when they considered the security risk to those premises reduced. As the international political situation changed, particularly with the collapse of the Soviet regime AFP reassessed the security risk to various missions and removed some of the huts.

John Moulis 2:33 pm 25 Nov 15

Kim F said :

There are a few more of those Security Guardhouses about. Two that come to mind are the one next to the Lodge on National Circuit and one behind the Turkish Ambassador’s residence on Mugga Way

There was one outside the Russian Embassy as well.

Charlotte Harper 1:45 pm 25 Nov 15

Yes. I seem to remember there being a lot more of them around 30 years ago too. I wonder whether some embassies took them out.

Kim F 12:10 pm 25 Nov 15

There are a few more of those Security Guardhouses about. Two that come to mind are the one next to the Lodge on National Circuit and one behind the Turkish Ambassador’s residence on Mugga Way

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