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About the exhibition

About the exhibition

WARNING: Visitors should be aware that this website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause sadness or distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


From Little Things Big Things Grow: Fighting for Indigenous Rights 1920 – 1970

From Little Things Big Things Grow, a National Museum of Australia travelling exhibition, follows the struggle to gain political and social equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

It tells the story of a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians who banded together in the fight to end discrimination.

Some of these activists are well-recognised, others obscure or forgotten. Some had personally experienced discrimination, others took up the cause as a question of justice.

Black and white photograph showing people standing on the back of truck, on a city streetscape. They hold various placards and banners and one is dressed in an Australian solider's uniform.

Pictured above: The Australian Aboriginal League float in the 1947 May Day procession.
Photo: Australian War Memorial.

Identified, left to right: Miss Leila Lord, Mr Tasman Dotti (holding a sign which reads 'Burn our welfare board'), Miss Alice Groves (holding a sign which reads 'United war divided peace'), Miss Delys Cross, Mr Herbert Groves, wearing his Second World War uniform as protest (holding a sign which reads 'Free to fight but not to drink'), and Mr Athol Lester (holding a sign which reads 'Our famous 1947 Australian All Blacks').

The story of the struggle

The exhibition reveals the story of these activists as they brought unwelcome truths to Australia's attention. They battled to be believed.

Their personal lives were sacrificed in the fight and some were victimised for taking a stand. A few were even spied on by ASIO (the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation).

From Little Things Big Things Grow also uncovers the injustices of racism and discrimination that inspired the activists in their struggle for change by revealing what life was like for Indigenous people in this time.

The exhibition features a mix of photographs, objects, personal stories and protest material to tell this largely unknown or forgotten story.

Key events explored in the exhibition

From Little Things Big Things Grow focuses on key events in the struggle for Indigenous civil rights, including:

1938 Day of Mourning and Protest

Black and white image of men, women and children gathered around a large hand-written sign which reads: 'Aborigines Conference. Day of Mourning'.

 

On 26 January 1938, while most Australians celebrated, a group of Aboriginal activists held an Aboriginal-only protest in Sydney to mark the 150th Anniversary of British colonisation of Australia.

They appealed for equality and protested against the 'callous treatment of our people by the white men'.

 

Pictured above: Aboriginal activists including Bill Ferguson (left) and Jack Patten (right) at the 1938 Day of Mourning and Protest in Sydney. Courtesy: AIATSIS.

Find out more about the 1938 Day of Mourning and Protest on our Collaborating for Indigenous Rights website


1958 Albert Namatjira jailed

At this time, the artist Albert Namatjira was probably the most well-known Aboriginal person in Australia. Because of his success, he was freed from the strict legislation which applied to almost all Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, including his family. In 1958, he was charged with supplying alcohol to a family member, which was an illegal act. He was sent to jail for this crime and died soon after his release.

Find out more about Albert Namatjira on our Collaborating for Indigenous Rights website


1965 Freedom Ride

In February 1965, a group of Sydney University students toured northern New South Wales towns to investigate and expose the discrimination faced by Indigenous Australians in places like cinemas, pools and cafes. They received much publicity and prompted broader recognition of the problems faced by Aboriginal people.

Find out more about the 1965 Freedom Ride on our Collaborating for Indigenous Rights website

Two men stand talking.

1966 Gurindji 'walk-off'

In August 1966, Gurindji man Vincent Lingiari led Aboriginal workers on a walk-off at Wave Hill pastoral station in the Northern Territory. They were protesting against discriminatory working conditions, but they also demanded the return of their traditional land. At the time, this land was leased from the Government by a British pastoral company, Vesteys. The protest eventually led to land being granted to the Gurindji. The Gurindji walk-off inspired the song From Little Things Big Things Grow.

Right:
Vincent Lingiari being spoken to by the manager of Vestey's Australia, the day after the 1966 Gurindji 'walk-off'. Courtesy: The Herald & Weekly Times Ltd.

Find out more about the 1966 Gurindji walk-off on our Collaborating for Indigenous Rights website

1967 Referendum

On 27 May 1967, ninety per cent of Australians voted in a referendum in favour of removing references in the Australian constitution that discriminated against Aboriginal people. The referendum gave the Federal Government the mandate to make special laws for Aboriginal Australians, and enabled them to be counted in population statistics. It also marked a symbolic step forward towards addressing inequality and discrimination in Indigenous communities.

Find out more about the 1967 Referendum on our Collaborating for Indigenous Rights website

Have your say

From Little Things Big Things Grow includes a 'Have Your Say' interactive. Visitors can share their stories of discrimination or comments about what they have seen in the exhibition.

See what others are saying or submit your story online