Gary Edward Foley (born 11 May 1950) is an Aboriginal Gumbainggir activist, academic, writer and actor, who eschews Australian nationality.[1] 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.[2] He also co-wrote and acted in the first indigenous Australian stage production, Basically Black.[3]

Early years and 1970s activism

Foley co-founded the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra
Foley co-founded the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra

Gary Edward Foley was born in 1950 in Gumbin Gir (Grafton, New South Wales), and spent much of his childhood in Nambucca Heads. He was expelled from school at the age of 15 and arrived in Redfern in 1967.[4] He worked as an apprentice draftsman and became involved in the "black power" movement active in that suburb.[2] The movement was inspired by the American Black Panther Party.[5]

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 Wallabies player 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.[2]

In 1972, Foley was appointed a public relations officer in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. He was fired from the Department after just six weeks, after three warnings, and then secretary Barrie Dexter urged ASIO to spy on Foley.[4]

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 from 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. He ran as an independent candidate for the seat of Jagajaga at the 1993 federal election in protest against the closure of Northlands Secondary College.[6]

During the 2018 Victorian state election, Foley endorsed the Victorian Socialists.[7]

Academic career

Foley completed a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Melbourne in 2000 before completing a first class honours degree in 2002. In 2001, he was appointed senior curator at Museum Victoria. In April 2005, 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. He also maintains the Kooriweb site on Aboriginal history and was formerly a senior lecturer at Swinburne University. He currently works as a professor at Victoria University.[8]

Foley participated in the Melbourne Free University project.


Australia Council for the Arts

The Australia Council for the Arts is the arts funding and advisory body for the Government of Australia. Since 1993, it has awarded a Red Ochre Award. It is presented to an outstanding Indigenous Australian (Aboriginal Australian or Torres Strait Islander) artist for lifetime achievement.

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2015[9] himself Red Ochre Award Awarded


  1. ^ Foley, Gary. "Who is he?". The Koori history website.
  2. ^ a b c Stephen Gibbs (9 July 2005). "One man's sorry tale". Sydney Morning Herald.
  3. ^ "FOLEY, Gary Edward". HistorySmiths Pty Ltd. Archived from the original on 15 March 2018. Retrieved 11 July 2005.
  4. ^ a b Daley, Paul (29 May 2015). "When two old foes opened Pandora's box, it unleashed an unlikely reconciliation". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 1 June 2015.
  5. ^ "Black Power in White Australia". Retrieved 13 May 2020.
  6. ^ Alex Cooper; Peter Boyle (24 February 1993). "Community groups continue anti-Kennett protests" (89). Green Left Weekly.
  7. ^ Dance, Felix (1 November 2018). "Could Victorian Socialists be about to make history?". Green Left Weekly. Retrieved 18 July 2019.
  8. ^ "Professor Gary Edward Foley". Victoria University.
  9. ^ "Foley named Red Ochre Award winner for 2015". Victoria University. Retrieved 28 November 2015.