The Lone Protestor: AM Fernando in Australia and Europe

lone protestor cover

Fiona Paisley

May, 2012
Auto / Biography
Award-winning publications
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Aboriginal Studies Press
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$34.95 RRP incl. GST


The late 1920s saw an extraordinary protest by an Australian Aboriginal man on the streets of London. Standing outside Australia House, cloaked in tiny skeletons, Anthony Martin Fernando condemned the failure of British rule in his country.

Fernando is believed to be the first Aboriginal person to protest conditions in Australia from the streets of Europe. His various forms of action, from pamphlets on the streets of Rome to the famous Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park, distinguish this lone protestor as a unique Aboriginal activist of his time.

Drawn from an extensive search in archives from Australia and Europe, this is the first full-length study of Fernando and the self-professed mission that was to last half of his adult life.

Paisley brings to light new episodes in Fernando's activist career as well as previously unknown details about his extraordinary life in Australia and overseas. Her account dramatically shifts our understanding of the international reach of Aboriginal protest in this era.

Winner: The Magarey Medal for Biography, 2014.

Extract from judge's comments: ‘[The judges noted] [T]he meticulous research, and the grasp and evocation of the national and international context, and the politics of the archive. The assured narrative reveals without pronouncing. Paisley's is an intelligent, nuanced and compelling biography set within an insightful and analytical framework’

Reviews and endorsements

‘This is both an inspiring and painful story, built on a complex set of records, of a man who acted alone without the support of a community around him and who was partially destroyed by the harshness of his encounters with a world that was for the most part hostile. [...] The Lone Protestor deserves to be widely read. Fernando understood empire. He insisted on metropolitan as well as settler responsibility for colonial violence and understood the ways in which imperial rule had impacted on daily life in Britain as well as Australia. He was a modern man.’

— Catherine Hall, Australian Historical Studies, Vol. 44, Issue 2, May 2013. Read the full review

'In this thoroughly researched and moving biography Fiona Paisley illustrates the importance of taking imperial histories beyond the boundaries of the nation.  Through the life of AM Fernando we see how the personal geographies of a marginal Aboriginal Australian man can illuminate national histories of Britain and Australia, the political geographies of two World Wars and the international and imperial networks that battled over the rights of colonised peoples.  Living in a mostly impoverished exile AM Fernando was a highly mobile traveller.   Some journeys he was forced to take, others he chose.  All of them raise important questions about the historical Black presence in Europe, the history of racism in Australia, Britain and the Empire, international networks of solidarity and how difficult it is to live and fight against the realities of racism.'

— Dr Caroline Bressey, Director, Equiano Centre, University College London

'Fiona Paisley’s The Lone Protestor recovers, for contemporary Australian public memory and political usage, Anthony Martin Fernando, a rare and sadly forgotten Aboriginal activist. Fernando, whose political career stretches from colonial Australia to imperial Britain, recognized something tremendously important and unusual among anti-colonial figures of his time: the Aboriginal “problem” began not in the colonies but in the very heart of the British Empire itself. And so, protest against colonialism had to start in Britain itself. Fernando was distinct as an activist in that he preferred to oppose colonialism, in all its domestic and international forms, on his own terms. He only occasionally worked with others, more often marching to the beat of his own anti-colonial drum. Paisley’s Lone Protestor captures Fernando’s idiosyncrasies, the courage and alienation of his struggles, and, finally, the tragedy of the Australian Aboriginal whose dogged campaigns passed with insufficient notice from his fellow Australians. Almost a century later, Lone Protestor sets the historical record straight.’

— Professor Grant Farred, Cornell University

‘The Lone Protestor is an exciting book. Anthony Martin Fernando’s life was known previously only in scattered fragments, but Fiona Paisley has tenaciously researched those hints and clues across languages, continents and disciplinary boundaries. Here she is able to lay out the moving story of Fernando’s courageous struggle across half the globe. This book contributes at the cutting edge to contemporary debates about trans-nationalism, crossing borders and cosmopolitanism, challenging the old Eurocentrism of colonial studies. Just like Anthony Martin Fernando, this sophisticated and thoughtful book will have a powerful effect.’

— Professor Heather Goodall, University of Technology Sydney

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Last reviewed: 12 Sep 2016