Australia: Protesters Shout 'Let It Burn' as Old Parliament House Goes Up in Flames

Australia: Protesters Shout 'Let It Burn' as Old Parliament House Goes Up in Flames

An unspecified array of anti-government protesters chanted “let it burn” as the front door of Australia’s Old Parliament House was set aflame on Thursday, reportedly confronting authorities trying to extinguish it.

The Old Parliament House in Canberra, as its name suggests, served as the meeting place for the Australian Parliament from 1927 to 1988. It has since been reformed into a museum and the area around it has recently attracted anti-government protesters of all stripes, from some protesting Australia’s draconian coronavirus laws to indigenous rights protesters. Multiple reports suggested that the fire erupted as growing numbers of protesters convened at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, a protest spot established in 1972 by indigenous protesters demanding the Australian government return the land taken from indigenous Australians to found the countrty.

The fire on Thursday was the second such incident in two weeks. Australian news sources noted that the protesters had consistently “ceremonial” fires near the building since the ongoing protest movement – making several unclear demands that range from more freedom from police repression to giving sovereignty over Australia back to the people who were there before Anglo-Australians.

An eyewitness quoted in New Zealand’s said that the fire appeared to precede the intentional burning of a smaller one near the building.

“I saw a little fire, I guess akin to a ceremony or something, then eventually it kind of went up in flames, the whole front door,” Cameron Duschka, the eyewitness, said. “There was a lot of arguing, shouting. I can’t remember if the police came before the fire or after but I think they came to move them on, they [police] got forced back into the building and then not long after that the fire came up.”

Videos of this week’s fire appear to show substantial damage to the front door of the building, an original artifact to the building installed in 1927. Chants of “let it burn!” can be heard in several videos of the fire, as well as assorted celebratory slogans condemning alleged “genocide” and “colonialism.”

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One of Australia's most cherished buildings – Old Parliament House in Canberra – has been set on fire by protesters.

The original doors, from 1927, were badly damaged after clashes erupted during a smoking ceremony.

— 9News Melbourne (@9NewsMelb) December 30, 2021

More footage of people watching as a fire consumes the front entrance to Old Parliament House in Canberra. Police and other agencies will have lots of footage to work with as they investigate.

— Siobhan Heanue (@siobhanheanue) December 30, 2021

Australian news sources reported that it only took about 15 minutes to extinguish the fire and the building itself remains intact. The fire caused substantial damage to the entrance, however, and the door, which authorities have said they are at press time uncertain if they will be able to salvage.

Police have not confirmed if the fire was intentional or an accident as a result of a “ceremonial” fire. The Sydney Morning Herald observed that some witnesses reported that protesters used paint to disable security cameras before the fire began, however, and reporters on the scene documented tense confrontations between journalists and protesters who apparently did not want their protest movement to get news coverage.

Aggravated demonstrators are confronting media outside Old Parliament House

— Harry Frost (@HMFrost) December 30, 2021

The Morning Heraldattempted to connect the fires to anti-vaccine mandate and forced camp quarantine protesters, though reports from the ground on Thursday documented protest chants related to indigenous people and calling for the return of land to Aboriginal Australians. The leaders of the ceaseless protest presence at the “Aboriginal Tent Embassy” immediately attempted to distance themselves from the violence and expressed concerns that the general public would blame them for the destruction.

“Although we support the concept of non-violent direct action, we do not condone the destruction of public and private property,” the “Tent Embassy” leaders said in a statement following the fire. “The actions of such protesters conducting a ‘smoking ceremony’ was done so without the knowledge, consent or mandate of the Embassy Council and Traditional Owners responsible for the regulation of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.”

While claiming that “well-known influencers from the ‘freedom movement’ who oppose vaccine mandates” had been protesting in the area recently, the Morning Herald conceded that the presence of pro-indigenous protesters at the “Aboriginal Tent Embassy” had “swelled” recently.

“January marks the 50th anniversary of the Tent Embassy. Its council has planned a three-day event towards the end of the month,” the newspaper observed.

Among those celebrating – also suggesting little relation between the anti-coronavirus repression movement and the fire – was indigenous Greens senator Lidia Thorpe, though she reportedly deleted her post on Twitter reading, “Seems like the colonial system is burning down. Happy New Year everyone.”

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Frances Martel