Minutes before flames rip through the ornate 95-year-old doors of Australia’s Old Parliament House, two of the protesters who have laid claim to the building climb to the ceiling of the portico.
Their mission: to smear ochre over CCTV cameras that might identify the source of the fire that would soon engulf the historic entrance hall.
A woman’s voice calls out: “If you’re a woman or a child get in front.”
Protesters link arms and at least 25 form a human barricade around the entrance, shielding the activity behind them.
Another voice instructs: “No cameras!”
But as flames lick up the door at least one iPhone captures a man appearing to throw more fuel on to the fire.
Others pile plastic chairs and a couch on to the blaze, creating an inferno, which now reaches the ceiling.
Australia’s oldest symbol of democracy is burning
Several police arrive, at least one with a fire extinguisher, but they are pushed back down the steps by the mob screaming obscenities.
“What we are witnessing here is a lawful response to genocide,” someone yells.
The cops retreat into a side entrance. It’s not their finest hour, either.
When the fire eventually becomes too intense, the protesters pull back, too – but close enough to jeer at the firemen who arrive to douse the flames, and to taunt the police who form a line to protect them.
“Burn it down,” some are chanting.
This then was the event variously described by protesters as “an accident involving a smoking ceremony”; the result of pepper-spraying by police; and – more recently – the dastardly work of a paid ASIO agent provocateur. …
Tensions had been rising for some days between the long-time occupants of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy … and the new arrivals … The Tent Embassy was getting ready to celebrate 50 years of peaceful occupation of the site [on the lawns of the Old Parliament House].
An army of interstate activists, many of them white, decided to invite themselves to the party, making it clear they had no respect for the Old Parliament building — now the Museum of Democracy — and intended to “take it back” …
Traditional owners … didn’t want the 50th anniversary of their non-violent protest this month hijacked by outsiders with very different agendas. And they weren’t pleased when the first “accidental” fire was lit against the doors of the Old Parliament.
Nine days before the fire that destroyed the portico — four days before Christmas — a fire was built against the same doors and caused enough damage to force the building to close for repairs.
The protesters smirkingly claimed it was a smoking ceremony gone wrong, and the incident was barely reported in the media.