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A Change Is Gonna Come

24 May 2017

National Museum launches exhibition to mark 50-year anniversary of 1967 referendum

White gloves worn by referendum rights activist Faith Bandler, a 1967 referendum voting box and working tools used by trade unionist and Indigenous rights activist Joe McGinness, are among historic items in the exhibition A Change Is Gonna Come, which opens at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra today.

The landmark exhibition commemorates the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum in which more than 90 per cent of Australians voted to change the Constitution to allow all Indigenous peoples to be included in the census and to give the federal government the power to legislate for Indigenous peoples.

Inspired by the 1964 civil rights song of the same name, A Change Is Gonna Come invites visitors to consider this historic action and to reflect on events that preceded it and those which followed, including the 1992 Mabo decision.

National Museum director Dr Mathew Trinca said the 1967 referendum was a key moment.

‘The National Museum is commemorating this important day which remains a lasting symbol of recognition for Indigenous Australians,’ said Dr Trinca.

National Museum curator Brenda L Croft said the past nine decades of organised Indigenous activism contextualise the historic outcomes of the 1967 referendum and the 1992 Mabo decision.

A Change Is Gonna Come allows visitors to consider how and why the actions of many – black and white – led to these significant anniversaries. Each decade’s actions inspired the activists who followed, right up to the present day,’ said Ms Croft.

A Change Is Gonna Come pays tribute to the determination and resilience of activists who demanded change – black and white. Referendum activists, elders Ray Peckham and Joyce Clague, will launch A Change Is Gonna Come. Lifelong Aboriginal rights activists, both have acknowledged that much remains to be done in the fight for social justice and equity.

Mrs Clague commented: ‘It remains the case to this day that in the absence of treaties … the 1967 referendum left us only one step forward in the determination of our rights and … place in Australian society.’

Other objects in the exhibition include the pipe of Frank Hardy, an advocate for the 1966 Gurindji Wave Hill Walk-Off; Stan Davey’s tape recorder, used to record stories of social injustice as he traversed the country; and Barrie Pittock’s red head-band, worn at an ‘emotional’ 1970 Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) meeting, when the fight for social justice segued from a civil rights agenda to Indigenous rights, or self-determination.

Fifty years after Sam Cooke’s civil rights anthem, A Change Is Gonna Come asks: Has change genuinely come, or is it coming still?


Please contact Tracy Sutherland (02) 6208 5338, 0438 087 717 or media@nma.gov.au