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Aboriginal Legal Service

The Aboriginal Legal Service had its origins in the police harassment of Aborigines living in Redfern in the late 1960s. Tired of what they saw to be a campaign of victimisation and intimidation, a group of young activists including Paul Coe, Isobel Coe, Gary Williams, Gary Foley and Tony Coorey instituted a surveillance operation against the local police force.

After trailing police and making notes on their behaviour towards the local Aboriginal community, this group had soon amassed a vast amount of incriminating evidence. The notes they had made were enough to persuade Hal Wootten, Dean of Law at the University of New South Wales, to assist them in setting up their own shopfront Aboriginal Legal Service of New South Wales. This organisation, established in October 1970, was the first in that state to be conceived, established and controlled by Aborigines since the Aborigines' Progressive Association in 1937.

The success of the New South Wales ALS soon inspired other Indigenous Australians to tackle their own community policing and legal problems. The South Australian Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement was established in November 1971. In Victoria, activists from the Aborigines' Advancement League helped to establish the Victorian Legal Service in June 1972 with assistance from law academics at Monash University. This replaced the ad hoc representation that the Aborigines' Advancement League had often arranged for local Aboriginal people appearing before court. Queensland and Western Australia also established voluntary services in 1972, and there was an Aboriginal Legal Service in every State and Territory by 1974. Although the legal services have worked closely with sympathetic white professionals, they were founded upon the principle of Indigenous self-determination and, by extension, as part of a continuing resistance to dispossession.

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