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Dr Gary Foley (born 11 May 1950) is an Australian Aboriginal Gumbainggir activist, academic, writer and actor (he eschews Australian nationality). He is best known for his role in establishing the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra in 1972 and for establishing an Aboriginal Legal Service in Redfern in the 1970s. Foley also co-wrote and acted in the first indigenous Australian stage production, Basically Black.
Early years and 1970s activism
Foley was born Gary Edward Foley in 1950 in Grafton and spent much of his childhood in Nambucca Heads. He was expelled from school on the basis of race at the age of 15 and arrived in Redfern in 1967 as an apprentice draftsman and became involved in the "black power" movement active in that suburb.
Foley played an active role in organising protests against the Springboks in 1971 as a result of the Apartheid policies in South Africa. At one stage, Foley and fellow protester Billy Craigie were arrested for wearing Springbok jerseys outside the team motel in Bondi Junction with the police believing they had been stolen when they had been supplied by former Wallaby Jim Boyce. As a result of the level of protests against the Springboks, an Australian tour by the South African cricket team later that year was cancelled and the two-decade exile of South African sporting teams commenced.
Foley co-founded the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1972 outside Parliament House to highlight Aboriginal disadvantage. The Tent Embassy is still in place despite ongoing controversy and has been nominated for the heritage list. It helped raise the profile of Aboriginal issues prior to the election of the Whitlam Government. He was also involved in the formation of the Aboriginal Legal Service in Redfern and the Aboriginal Medical Service in Melbourne and Sydney.
He also co-wrote and appeared in Basically Black, the first Aboriginal stage production in 1972. In 1978, he was part of a group that took Aboriginal films to the Cannes Film Festival and then to other parts of Europe. He also starred in the film Backroads (1977), appeared in Dogs in Space and made guest appearances on television shows A Country Practice and The Flying Doctors.
Activist during the 1980s
Foley set up the first Aboriginal Information Centre in London. On returning to Australia, he organised protests against the Brisbane Commonwealth Games held in 1982. He was the first indigenous director of the Aboriginal Arts Board of the Australia Council between 1983 and 1986 and held other leadership positions in the Aboriginal community. In 1988, he organised Aboriginal protests against the Australian Bicentenary in 1988 before becoming a consultant to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
Gary Foley completed a Bachelor of Arts at Melbourne University in 2000 before completing a First Class Honours Degree in 2002. In 2001, he was appointed Senior Curator at Museum Victoria until April 2005, when he resigned in protest over the Dja Dja Wurrung barks scandal. Foley completed his doctorate at the University of Melbourne in 2013, where until 2008 he was also a lecturer and tutor before resigning in protest at the University's apparent lack of commitment to Indigenous education. Foley also maintains the Kooriweb site on Aboriginal history and was formerly a senior lecturer at Swinburne University. Foley is currently lecturing and tutoring at Victoria University.
Gary Foley recently participated in the Melbourne Free University project.
- Biography of Gary Foley on Kooriweb
- Brisbane Writers Festival biography of Foley
- Historysmiths biography of Foley
- Sydney Morning Herald article on Foley's role in Springbok protests, 9 July 2005
- Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies The Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Society and Culture 1994 Volume 1 ISBN 0-85575-234-3