Roxley Foley, a Gumbaynggirr man and son of renowned activist Gary Foley, arrived in the UK from Germany on November 25 expecting to head straight to his destination, conducting a lecture at Cambridge University on 'Decolonising Australia'. He was instead, held, questioned, locked up overnight and sent on a plane back to Germany where he eventually conducted the lecture via Skype.
To his family and friends, the turn of events was shocking. To Foley, who had only recently been in the UK as part of an Indigenous contingent (endorsed by the Australian Senate) lobbying for the repatriation of artefacts stolen by Captain Cook at Botany Bay in 1770, the denial of his entrance was not a surprise. In response to a Facebook comment on his status reporting his detainment, he responded: "Black man entering uk to speak on Australian human rights violations a few weeks after he drew mass amounts of bad press on one of their most beloved institutions."
Foley and the rest of the Indigenous contingent unfortunately left the British Museum and the UK empty-handed, and headed to Germany to meet with the Berlin Ethnographical Museum and conduct several further talks. At that point the delegation split up, with Vincent and Rodney traveling to Utrecht University for another talk and then back to Australia. Foley stayed on to continue to build contacts.
Two weeks after the initial visits with the British Museum, Foley flew to the UK from Germany to present several talks at Cambridge University and London University. Speaking to NITV from Berlin, Foley described entering customs with both Australian passport and Aboriginal passport and letters of support including one from Federal Parliament, and realising he was up against some barriers when the security officer exclaimed to him that she 'had never heard of Australian Aboriginal people before and was suspicious’.
"(in hindsight) I probably shouldn’t have rocked up to London customs wearing my Che Guevara shirt, my Black Power amulet, and middle-eastern style shemagh/keffiyeh which women from the central desert have given me because of family connections...based on these, they probably made some assumptions."
Customs officers then proceeded to confiscate Foley's notebooks and diaries and things took an interesting turn when they found lists of places such Buckingham Palace, Australia House, Downing Street and various embassies. Counter Terrorism were then called in. "These were all places I actually had meetings with and places that I needed to go to visit for other business. There were also names of individuals such as human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson. I’m lucky I have a good sense of humour and a lot of patience, I was trying not to laugh as they had gotten things so out of context."
Foley was held overnight and once customs and counter terrorism had understood his plans, was sent back to Germany in the morning, where he says he was welcomed without any troubles.
The scheduled talk at Cambridge went ahead via Skype and one of the attendants, Louis Klee in a piece documenting the talk said the detainment did not dampen Foley's passion for his subject. " Roxley did not hide or avoid the history of Australia. With catholicity, passion, and composure, he connected the brazen cupidity of the Australian mining industry, the perils of ‘ecocide’, the militarisation of Australian borders, and the enduring spectre of settler-colonialism. He spoke at length about the disproportionate incarceration of Aboriginals Australians – the rates of which, for children in Western Australia, are the highest in the world, more than fifty-two times greater than incarceration rates for non-indigenous children."
Foley is in Germany for another couple of weeks to continue talks about the repatriation of human remains and to build contacts with European supporters who are interested in establishing an Indigenous International advocacy base.