Member for Barton Linda Burney, Prof John Maynard from the University of Newcastle, NPY Women’s Council chief executive Andrea Mason and Aboriginal rights activist Ray Peckham with ABC RN presenter Paul Barclay, 24 May 2017
PAUL BARCLAY: This is Big Ideas. I’m Paul Barclay, at the National Museum of Australia. It is 50 years since the ‘yes’ vote in the 1967 constitutional referendum. Fifty years since the nation unified to vote in favour of altering the constitution to recognise Indigenous Australians as effectively full citizens.
RN [Radio National] and the National Museum have been shining a light on Defining Moments in Australian History and the 27th of May 1967, when 91 per cent of the nation voted yes to this referendum was surely one of those defining moments. Until 1967 our first nations peoples were not even counted as people for the purposes of the national census. The referendum changed that and it allowed for the Commonwealth to be able to pass special laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – laws it was hoped that would eliminate some of the state-based discrimination that existed. A key moment in our history but what is the legacy of the 67 referendum today? What unfinished business do we need to attend to and what is the prospect for further constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians today?
It’s a great pleasure to be joined at the Museum by four fantastic guests. Linda Burney MP was the first Aboriginal person to be elected to the New South Wales parliament and the first Aboriginal woman to serve in the House of Representatives. Astonishing even saying that, really. And she is a member of the Wiradjuri nation. Professor John Maynard is at the end. John is a Worimi man from the Port Stephens region of New South Wales and is the co-director of the Purai Global Indigenous and Diaspora Research Studies Centre at the University of Newcastle. Next to Linda we have Ray Peckham, an Aboriginal elder and Aboriginal rights activist who pressed the case for the referendum back in 1967. And we have also Andrea Mason, the CEO of the NPY [Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara] Women’s Council. She is the co-chair of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council. And it is a great pleasure to be able to speak to you all tonight.
Ray, you were there in 1967 at that moment when Australia voted ‘yes’ to the referendum. Was it a defining moment in our history?
RAY PECKHAM: Well, you can ask yourself, each and every one of you, ‘Why was it such a success?’ It was a simple reason, that our organisations had a really great power base and the strength came through when it was asked for. You ask, ‘Why was it so successful?’ It’s just a simple reason, that the people, the ordinary people in the street, the population of Australia believed in this fair go and thought, ‘Right-o, give the Aborigines their right to administer their own administration and sort of break this dictatorship of laws that control them on reserves and everything.’
Because we were working class people, you know? We just happened to be just Aborigines. We were part of the working class people and the trade unions, and the strong student organisations, and the World Council of Churches realised this, that we were just simple people just the same as everybody else, and should share the privileges and so forth in education and accommodation as everybody else.
PAUL BARCLAY: Did you have to work hard, Ray, to convince the non-Indigenous community to vote in favour of the referendum or did the goodwill already exist in the community?
RAY PECKHAM: Well, the goodwill already existed in the community. I was the liaison between the trade union movement and the two Aboriginal organisations, and the trade union movement treated me as a brother. There was no discrimination there. And when a brother asked for assistance, that these people were in dire straits, like in the way of the same principles that the trade union movement was fighting for, like a fair go, fair rents and the same privileges without any restraints and stuff like that.
On many occasions, they came forward and supported me. I was a sort of trouble-shooter in different parts of the state, like the eviction of Horace Saunders in Purfleet in Taree, and the accommodation and re-establishment of accommodation in Moree. And also, I was in the company of a well-known journalist. He made documentaries for ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] on New Britain island on the riots and so forth, and the native population were up in arms. Well, not arms, but rakes and bloody forks and everything [laughter], when the capitalists that were bringing in the tea plantations and indentured labour from India. And the indentured labourers of the Indians, they started buying up the native’s lands and all this sort of business. There was a hell of a player, and his name was Cecil Holmes.
PAUL BARCLAY: I’m going to be joining into the discussion now. John, you were alive when the 67 referendum took place. Can you remember it?
JOHN MAYNARD: Yes, I can. I mean, I was 12. I’d just started high school in Newcastle, and I was saying earlier today with the launch of the A Change is Gonna Come exhibition that for me, I was always interested in newspapers and what was going on. I mean, the 60s was a time of great social and political upheaval globally. A mentally divisive war in Vietnam, the civil rights movement in the United States, and certainly the United Nations’ gaze and the global gaze had been beginning to be focused on Australia for the treatment of Aboriginal people, that was unquestioned. The White Australia policy was still in place. So all of these things were happening at that particular time.
PAUL BARCLAY: You’d had the freedom riots leading up to 67 as well.
JOHN MAYNARD: All of that and the Gurindji Walk-Off in Wave Hill. So there was this mobilisation of forces happening at that particular point in time. It just didn’t happen overnight, as well. I mean, it was ten years of Aboriginal people and their supporters who’d worked so hard to bring about and convince this country that change had to happen. And that was mobilised. And it certainly went on long before that, certainly back to my grandfather’s time in the 20s, when they were also saying that the state protection boards had to be scrapped, replaced by an all-Aboriginal board to sit under the Commonwealth Government, demanded enough land for each and every Aboriginal family in the country’s national land rights, and self-determination, 50 years before the Whitlam government first put it on the table. So those are the long fights in regards to this particular point in time.
PAUL BARCLAY: Yes, a ten-year campaign, Linda, and no ‘no’-campaign put forward at all to that referendum vote. Both sides of politics coming together, both sides of Australia coming together and almost unanimously supporting this referendum. In these hyper-partisan times, it does seem like a long time ago. What do you think, looking back now on the 67 referendum? I’m assuming you can’t remember the 67 referendum.
LINDA BURNEY: I was ten.
PAUL BARCLAY: Do you remember it, did you –
LINDA BURNEY: – I don’t remember the vote specifically, but I do remember there was something big going on, yes.
PAUL BARCLAY: So what does it represent? What did it represent? Was it a single moment, or was it a moment that triggered a whole lot of other very important activities?
LINDA BURNEY: Well I think what John and Ray have said is absolutely correct; it wasn’t a single moment. And I know that there are some of the original campaigners here, and I pay enormous respect, and thank you Paul for your welcome. It wasn’t a single moment. Faith Bandler of course, describes it as the long game, and people worked for a long time. It was over a decade of people with this idea of changing the referendum, and the thing that was, I think, remarkable about it: it was people of good will, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people having a goal of changing the nation’s birth certificate. And it was a time of great change in the world, not just in Australia.
To add to that, the women’s movement was getting underway. You had enormously important things happening in the Aboriginal space, the Gurindji Walk-Off and the extraordinary story of that. And I also think that the important thing was, and it’s a lesson that we have to learn for this forthcoming discussion. In 67, it wasn’t that the referendum change was going to fix everything, and it wasn’t a catch-all for everything, it wasn’t perfect. But it was achievable, and there was a pragmatic practical approach by the 67-ers to understand just how far they could take it, and understand that it wasn’t going to deliver a panacea for all the issues for Aboriginal Australia. And I think that’s a very important lesson for the discussion we’re about to have.
PAUL BARCLAY: Andrea, what legacy do you see the 1967 referendum having today? What relevance do you think it has for Indigenous people today?
ANDREA MASON: So I wasn’t there in 1967 [laughter]. I was a smile on my father’s face; I was born in 1966. So I often reflect on the beginning of my life, because now being 50 years of age, I in some way represent maybe the hopes and dreams of campaigners in the 1967 referendum. We do have a very different Australia now, in terms of [how] the different populations and communities we have here reflect on Australia. In terms of people who have family from overseas, born overseas, and are now living in Australia, it’s around 38 or 39 per cent. And that’s interesting, because in the year where [inaudible], it’s around about 9 per cent.
So I’m interested in this discussion, particularly in the constitution and the race clause, clauses, there’s more than one that deals with that. And what I’m interested in is we’re taking the effort of this change. Actually, this affects everybody in Australia, and I think as people start to understand what Aboriginal tribes and Islander people are trying to bring to the fore about the content of the constitution and the race clauses there, perhaps there might be a different awakening across the general population of the change that really is necessary.
LINDA BURNEY: I think one of the really important lessons from 67 and part of the legacy is to understand what foundation it laid and what it did in terms, and that’s what Unc [Uncle Ray Peckham] was saying here, what it did in terms of relationships between Aboriginal Australia and non-Aboriginal Australia. It fundamentally changed that.
PAUL BARCLAY: Yes. John, do you think these issues were just less divisive back in the 60s than today? Do you think it is harder today to get unity on those discussions?
JOHN MAYNARD: Absolutely. It’s not 1967. I mean, Unc and I were speaking earlier today. Certainly through the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, Aboriginal people were totally united in the sense of where we were going and what we had to do to make change for the better in this country, and also with the non-Indigenous support. And certainly we’ve lost that across the last 30 years. I would point the blame to native title – we spend most of our time fighting amongst ourselves in regards to that process – and we’ve said today, we’ve got to get back to that sense of strong pan-Aboriginal, national Aboriginal movement with non-Indigenous support to fight for the good of all Aboriginal people, which is something that my grandfather said 90 years ago. So that’s what we’ve got to back to. So it is a changed world today, but certainly at that time, I mean, we’ve got to get back to that, mobilising people and getting people to support where we want to go.
LINDA BURNEY: I think political bravery is going to be important too, John.
PAUL BARCLAY: It was hoped, Ray, that the referendum would be a turning point for Indigenous Australians. Would you say, would it be fair to say that the referendum failed to have a broader impact on the lives of Indigenous people?
RAY PECKHAM: Well, the general attitude was that they believed that the referendum gave the Aborigines full citizenship rights, but it wasn’t, it didn’t go that far. It only just touched the edges of it. Today, we find that what’s wrong by changing the constitution today, it’s bringing that up – see, the – what you got to realise is that by keeping the two, the white and black, we’re going to talk this way, it’s great. Keeping the white and black apart is that there’s money in us blacks, like selling cattle and sheep down at the sale yards. Keeping that alive, keeping us apart, keeps them in their positions as politicians and hierarchy, I think, and people and all that sort of keeps them as experts, and they –
PAUL BARCLAY: – Your community is being deliberately divided, is what you’re saying?
RAY PECKHAM: Yes, yes, that’s right. And we’ve got to think, we’ve got to realise the impact that has happened today. Why is it so important that we change the constitution today? What is happening, why – the constitution, in my estimate, can be changed any day in the week. But it is the preamble to the constitution that’s muddying the waters.
PAUL BARCLAY: Okay, we’ll come to the constitution in just a moment. Big Ideas is the National Museum of Australia in Canberra discussing the legacy of the 1967 referendum and what still needs to be done. Our guests are Ray Peckham, Andrea Mason, Linda Burney and John Maynard.
Linda, this conversation tonight is taking place as a summit is also taking place in Uluru. I think over 300 Indigenous delegates are meeting to try to and thresh out what should be recommended to the government for a referendum for constitutional recognition. You’ve said that the lesson from 67 is that we need something that’s practical, that’s achievable, and that accepts that not everything can change. So, that brings us to the question of what exactly that is. What is the minimum position that ought to be put forward that is both achievable but is substantial? I’m assuming that we need to do something more than just acknowledge in the constitution that Indigenous people were here first.
LINDA BURNEY: Sure. That’s probably the $64,000 question, so thank you for that [laughter].
PAUL BARCLAY: You’re the politician on the panel, you get the hard questions [laughter].
LINDA BURNEY: I would not dare suggest to the Uluru [First Nations National Constitutional Convention] meeting what the outcome should be, but I do think it’s important that, particularly on this program, that we make it clear that there are three substantial pieces of work that the parliament will have to consider in coming to its conclusion about: a. Is there going to be a referendum? b. What are the questions? And c. What is the timeframe? So they’re the three fundamental things. The three pieces of work, there was the expert panel that did all that work led by Patrick Dodson that made recommendations in relation to constitutional reform. There was also the parliamentary committee, formal committee that went around Australia, led by Ken Wyatt and Nova Peris. We need to consider that. And of course, importantly, what the referendum council will recommend to the parliament, and it will be up the referendum council to distil and put together the report out of Uluru. So they’re the three pieces of work we have to consider.
I am simply saying, Paul, that the constitutional question and the constitutional reform, and I think it’s what everyone’s said tonight, is part of a bigger picture. It’s not the end game, it’s not the be all and end all of everything, it will not solve all of the issues, social justice issues, particularly facing Aboriginal people. And it needs to be seen in that context.
PAUL BARCLAY: True, but it could tidy up a few things, and one of the few things it could tidy up, for example, and I think Andrea alluded to this earlier, is the fact that we have in our constitution a section called the race power that gives the parliament the right to pass laws that can discriminate against people on the basis of race.
LINDA BURNEY: That’s correct.
PAUL BARCLAY: Should that be taken out of the constitution?
LINDA BURNEY: Well I think the important thing to say is that politicians have been accused by people of having some sort of minimalist model in mind. I don’t have a model in mind, but I do believe that the constitution has to recognise Aboriginal people as the traditional owners of this country, and it has to also recognise issues of rights to culture and language. And those words in many ways, you can see as poetic but important, and some people would say symbolic. Symbols are important in nation building. Symbols are important in how we relate to each other. You go to any town in this great land and you will see a memorial to the great wars. They’re symbols, but they’re important.
But secondly of course, there are two sections that Andrea has referred to, section 25 and section 50 –
PAUL BARCLAY: 51.26.
LINDA BURNEY: – 51.26, which discriminate against people on the basis of race, and in particular, both at the state and a federal government level. And clearly, how can we go forward with a constitution that gives governments capacity to discriminate against any particular race?
PAUL BARCLAY: Andrea, I see you nodding furiously at that.
ANDREA MASON: So in the 21st century, given what we’re seeing around the world and the divisiveness that comes through race, here’s an opportunity to set the record straight –
LINDA BURNEY: Absolutely.
ANDREA MASON: For the type of country that we want to live in today, as well as for future generations. What I’m also excited about at the summit happening out at Uluru, which is on my country, because my family are Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara, is that we have people from many, many nations. We have Gadigal people, we have Arrernte people from Central Australia, and possibly other nations here from WA [Western Australia] the Noongar people.
So it is an example of how representatives of nations that may not be the single supportive family member representing the nation that they come from, but they are representatives. And I think it’s important to say that when we talk about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we have to look at the nations that that encompasses. So it’s important to recognise the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people here today. We’re talking about nations that were here, and so it is absolutely proper, it’s a proper process for representatives of nations to talk about what they care about, but also what they would like to see. And we, as Linda said, we just have to wait to see what comes out of that three-day summit, and what the consensus will be.
LINDA BURNEY: I think we’re going to see also a sensible approach in the sense that what will come out of that will be things that will be broader than constitutional reform, that’s clear. So it will be important for government opposition and the community to see that there probably needs to be several processes around the outcomes of Uluru, not just constitutional reform.
PAUL BARCLAY: So John, what are you thinking about this, about what your minimum position would be? If we were going to bother to try and change the constitution to recognise Indigenous Australians where should the bar be set?
JOHN MAYNARD: I can probably bring in a little bit of negativity in regards to the discussion. I mean I’m not going to be speaking on behalf of all Aboriginal people in this country but I’ve put across my own thoughts in regards to this. It’s certainly not 1967 and the world we’re in at the moment is a world and you’ll look around at things that happened in recent years which were a little bit uneasy and if, certainly from an Aboriginal perspective, if we wanted to put into this preamble, what we feel should be in that preamble, what are the chances of that referendum getting across the line? And that has to cause a little bit of alarm.
I’m going to quote Mick Dodson here a few years ago. Mick has shifted in his position a number of times in regards to what he’s thought. But he thought that the two racist elements have got to go from the constitution to begin with, but then from Mick’s perspective, do nothing else. Get the referendum over the line, and then go on to the major issues, which is a treaty, a bill of rights, a republic, and then let’s get a real constitution where all people in this country are treated justly and fairly, and I think, you know [applause] that to me is where I’d be going.
PAUL BARCLAY: So there is a view that if you remove the non-discrimination, or if you insert a non-discrimination clause into the constitution, that you start to open up explicit rights within the constitution that therefore will encourage judicial activism. This is, when you start fiddling around with the constitution, things get complicated, is what the constitutional lawyers will say. So you take something out and you say, ‘Well no, you can’t discriminate. Australia’s constitution can’t discriminate.’ And that therefore allows future high court judges to use that as a way to be active judicially. Is that something we should be worried about?
LINDA BURNEY: Well there is certainly some people advocating that position, but I don’t think it’s a reason not to amend the constitution. And of course there is going to be activism, but that doesn’t worry me at all. I think the issue that we’re really talking about is what is it that we can achieve with constitutional reform? Because we know how difficult referendum change is in Australia. Out of the 46 referendums or whatever we’ve had, we’ve passed eight. But John is right, it’s that there is going to be a suite of things that will have to be dealt with, and need to be dealt with. I mean, yesterday morning in the parliament, you know, there were a group of 120, older Aboriginal people that had been taken from their families. They want reparation. And that’s an important point. That doesn’t need constitutional reform, that needs brave people.
PAUL BARCLAY: So Ray, there’s even talk of a treaty again. Some people are using this discussion around constitutional recognition to say there should be a treaty.
RAY PECKHAM: Well I look at it this way. Historically, we look at our cousins, the Indians in America who were called three or four times, four to discuss treaties amongst them. And, they got them all together all right, and they mowed them down, shot them. The last one was at Wounded Knee. So what’s the use of a treaty? And the treaty can be, it’s just like, what you’ve got to realise is when the Aboriginal welfare bought out their book of Acts, they also had a book of regulations, and the regulations determined how they lived, and not only the Aborigines, but the people on the streets, the ordinary people on the streets when they came out with their ordinances of the municipalities. And this is the same thing whether that happens with the preamble. So let’s scrap the Commonwealth constitution as it stands today. We’ve got men and women in a position now, with the education and the knowledge to sit down with any organisation or government department or any, and draft a new constitution for the 21st century [applause].
PAUL BARCLAY: I think that might be one of the longer term goals. But just getting back to the treaty –
RAY PECKHAM: There will be insert deletions and insertions, like when we were in the process of the campaign. That Pearl Gibbs said to me, ‘You go to the Commonwealth treasury over in [inaudible] and get the deletions and insertions three times a week.’ I had to do this, because they were being changed every day of the week, you know, the regulations [laughter]. It’s true, yes. It wasn’t only just one week, that was the full going when the struggle was going on.
PAUL BARCLAY: It brings us back, though, to this question, this central question. Nobody wants to see this referendum to fail, I think. Most people would agree that would be a terrible outcome. On the other hand, Professor Megan Davis from the referendum council, you would have heard that she has said that Indigenous people are now focused on the best model for constitutional change, not the politics of constructing a successful referendum. Indeed, she says, ‘The council has detected a deep mistrust of government.’ This is what she’s saying, as the result of travelling around the country and talking to local communities.
Are you concerned, Linda, that the Uluru summit may back a proposal that is: a. Not winnable, and that b. The political parties will not support and will not put to the people?
LINDA BURNEY: Yes. Of course I’m concerned about that. I think people in Uluru would be concerned about that. But they will put forward through the referendum council what they believe needs to happen and that has to be respected. It has to be considered, and then the decision’s taken through debate and I would suggest probably further consultation on what is actually put. I have said, perhaps a little bit controversially, is that if it is clear that a referendum is not going to be successful, then why would you put it? Why would you set it back decades and perhaps a couple of lifetimes if we know it is not going to be successful? But I suspect what we’ll get out of Uluru is a proposal about constitutional reform, but there will also, as I said, be additional things that don’t require constitutional reform.
The formulation of treaties or Indigenous land use agreements or agreements, don’t require constitutional reform. They require legislation, they require things like local government entities sitting down with the Ngambri or the Gurindji or whoever, working out an agreement on relationships, on fiscal arrangements, on street names, whatever it’s going to be. There are many treaty-like arrangements already in existence in Australia, some of them through native title, some of them through local government, some of them through mining companies, some of them through how land’s going to be used in particular parts of Australia. You don’t need constitutional reform to bring about treaty or agreement making processes.
PAUL BARCLAY: John, Noel Pearson has suggested this idea of an elected Indigenous body that would consult and advise Parliament. I mean, this would be a body that just had an advisory role, but would nonetheless be able to place some moral pressure, if you like, on Parliament to be informed of what Indigenous people were thinking about the laws and policies that they were about to put forward. Is this a good idea?
JOHN MAYNARD: Absolutely, and again, it goes back to what my grandfather said 92 years ago, that an all-Aboriginal board sat under the federal government and to oversee Indigenous affairs. So I think we’ve had that discussion around for a long time. We had ATSIC [Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission] as well, in the past. I mean, the model needs a lot of work and needs lots of discussion with Indigenous people, it’s right across the country. And we need to have the right people in there. But I think it’s so important to have people at that level.
PAUL BARCLAY: Andrea, you’re on the Prime Minister’s advisory council at the moment, although it’s not currently an elected body. Do you like the idea of a body elected by the people that could advise and consult with Parliament?
ANDREA MASON: Well I think we may continue to have, like Linda, more politicians at the commonwealth and state level, because we need that clear thinking to come through those various parliaments. My dad was a member of the NICC 1973, the NIC [National Indigenous Council] was before that, and then John just mentioned ATSIC. So we can enact these bodies, but there’s also the time when governments can abolish. So we need something that is much more protected, and is future proof for Parliament not to be able to … things to turn sour, and action, like what happened with ATSIC.
PAUL BARCLAY: Your mob on the NPY lands face a number of challenges, challenges that you’ve been dealing with in your role over the years, and making some progress on, we might talk about some of the progress you’ve made a little bit later on. But how would enhanced constitutional recognition benefit, say the women that you represent on the NPY lands? Would it have any impact on their lives, would it improve their lives in any way?
ANDREA MASON: So, what is very very interesting about Australia is that we have the nations such as the people, the Gadigal people there, in Sydney, who saw those early ships come into Port Melbourne.
LINDA BURNEY: Botany Bay.
ANDREA MASON: Botany Bay, sorry, Botany Bay. And then in my neck of the woods, the last group of Pintupi people coming into community, into settlement in the mid-80s. The NPY women have continued to maintain culture, identity, law. There’s never been a disconnect to that history, knowledge, drop about law, it just continues. So we have this absolutely dynamic mosaic representation of our nations, but also we have incredible diversity. So I guess what I’m saying is that you’ve got a group like the NPY nations in Central Australia, but that disconnect has never stopped.
And you’ve got other nations where they were almost ground zero, and there’s been an incredible despair and loss. So in a sense, there’s a reconciliation and an inclusion that’s got to happen, as John was saying, with all the nations understanding that there is something that we actually have to achieve together for the greater good.
PAUL BARCLAY: I suppose what I’m asking, and maybe I’ll ask you, Linda, you look at the range of challenges that still exist in Indigenous affairs in Australia. Does constitutional recognition matter very much, in terms of getting Indigenous people to have a quality education, getting more of them into the workforce, dealing with the health gap that exists? I mean, is this really a top order issue?
LINDA BURNEY: I think that is going to be an argument that will be trotted out against constitutional reform, but it’s a very important point and a very honest point to make. Will constitutional reform deliver a better health service on the APY [Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara] lands? Not necessarily. Will constitutional reform empty the jails of our people? Not necessarily. Will constitutional reform make our lives longer? Not necessarily, but that’s, in my view, in the short term. Constitutional reform and the 67 referendum laid foundations. It laid foundations and it allowed Aboriginal people and the broader community to walk taller. And that’s important, that’s nation building. And if the foundations are not there, then you can’t sort the incarceration issues out. You can’t expect that health services are going to magically make everyone healthy. But it is an important part of the continuum, or important part of the complexity of what needs to happen, to sort out those social justice issues, but also those issues of cultural maintenance, the issues of recognising country, the issues of agreement making. It is part of a larger picture, and I think it’s really important to see it in that context.
I also believe, and I’ll be very brief on this, it’s a complex thought, but you know, the way in which the dreadful social justice outcomes are addressed in relation to Aboriginal people is by the rest of the community believing it should happen. That’s incredibly important to sort those issues out at a government or a business level or a civil society level. There has to be the general broad understanding in the community that this is not right, and it’s not acceptable.
PAUL BARCLAY: But Ray, as you saw after 1967, so many of the problems remained. Do you feel, in a way, that 67 has perhaps given us a look into the limitations of what constitutional change can deliver to Indigenous people?
RAY PECKHAM: Well, a case in point might explain something beneath, throw a light on it. The Horace Saunders eviction in Purfleet, in Taree, they picked Horry because he had the collateral; he was a professional fisherman on Manning River. And he had an inboard motor and he had two open boats, you know, like the lifesavers have on the ocean, and he had one for his catch and one for his gear. Now, this eviction notice came around, what Pearl Gibbs was fighting for on the Aboriginal welfare board, for decent homes and the facilities to go with them, like kitchens and bathrooms – they had pit toilets up above the reserve, which used to overflow in torrential rain, and the waters used to go across, under the houses, under the open country just in front of the houses. Kids used to be playing in it and dying of diphtheria and this is what the Aboriginal welfare board should have been fighting, you know? To stop all this sort of thing. And the –
PAUL BARCLAY: And the debt wasn’t dealt with by the referendum, is what you’re saying?
RAY PECKHAM: No.
PAUL BARCLAY: Did that continue?
RAY PECKHAM: Yes, that continued on, and the thing is this, that a couple of women from the [inaudible] in Newcastle were going north, and they saw the people there, the women in the little church, and they made inquiries [inaudible] and they went back. When they went back to, they discussed it with the labour council in Newcastle and they sent the word down to the Aboriginal organisations in Sydney and they said, ‘Peckham, you go up there and find out what’s wrong.’ So I went up there and I contacted Horace Saunders and his wife Faith, and I stayed with them for three days, and on the third day I said to Horry, ‘The best thing you can come with me, mate,’ I said, ‘is down to Sydney, and we’ll start a campaign on it.’ And I introduced him to the BWIU, the Building Workers’ Industrial Union, and the builders’ labourers, and they organised dinnertime meetings on the particular stuff and we went to the waterside works and did the same thing. And they sent me, then they said, ‘You go down to Wollongong and contact the coal miners.’ And I did on the coal fields down there, and got support for the Horace Saunders case.
PAUL BARCLAY: The importance I think you’re talking about there, of community activism.
RAY PECKHAM: Yes, community activism. And it didn’t end there. Unbeknownst the Aboriginal welfare board now took – instead of fighting through the local court and magistrate’s court in Taree, which maybe they would have won, but they wanted to make a holy show of Horace Saunders and humble him in front of his people – so they took it the Supreme Court in Sydney. Unbeknownst to the Aboriginal welfare board, we, through the Communist Party and the trade union movement, the retiring Rhoades barrister, Mr Fred Paterson, he took the case. He said, ‘Yes, I’ll take the case,’ because he used to give political – he looked after the publications of the Tribune paper and the trade union publications and all that sort of business so he would know litigation and all that. And he took it for nothing.
And Horace Saunders and I were in the court, at the Supreme Court in Sydney, and their barrister had books and all that, and he’s quoting from all these books and everything like that, and I was afraid they had nothing. And in about a quarter of a minute, I wouldn’t be there. Five to ten minutes, the judge took him into the chamber, into his chamber and walked back, and Fred came back and he said, ‘We won the case!’
PAUL BARCLAY: I am going to leave it there. It’s a great story. Perhaps we can –
RAY PECKHAM: And it didn’t finish there either [laughter] –
PAUL BARCLAY: I’m sure it didn’t, but we are going to have to leave that case there. I’m sure you’ve got some great stories to tell, which we can talk about over dinner actually, later on. This is Big Ideas –
RAY PECKHAM: – want you to put it in so everybody in the world knows about it.
PAUL BARCLAY: We can’t put everything on the radio, unfortunately, Ray. This is Big Ideas coming to you from the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, discussing the legacy of the 67 referendum. That’s Ray Peckham. Our other guests are Andrea Mason, Linda Burney and John Maynard.
Look, I do want to get to a few other things, a few other achievements perhaps that we can point to post-67 and in more recent times. And Andrea, we know that one of the big social problems in Australia generally, but on Indigenous communities as well, is the problem of domestic violence, and I think the coroner in the Northern Territory said this was a problem that was out of control. But I hear that you’ve started to make some inroads to this in the NPY lands, you’re starting to see some improvements. Can you just give us an idea of what have you done, and is there some good news that you can report in terms of improvements in this area?
ANDREA MASON: So as you rightly say domestic violence is the biggest issue in our communities and particularly in the Northern Territory. And the women talked about the lack of safety and what women were experiencing in the early 90s and so we started our domestic violence service in 1994. And what’s been interesting for me, in being in Central Australia since 2008, has been the incredible amount of money that’s pouring into Central Australia to really deal with this issue, and that has, and it brings every service into it. So we’re talking about the police, we’re talking about the courts, we’re talking about the hospitals, mental health services, education, every service and every level of society is affected.
What was interesting for me is that there had not been a movement initiated by the men to take on the issue to the same level that is was hurting our communities. The Department of Correctional Services, I think in 2006, started a program, Cross Borders men’s program, but it was really around parole sentences, processes that they were required to do that program. And that has had some really good success. But last year we started a specific opportunity for men, because not every man is that profile. And I know that because my father was not that profile and many of them who believed in me as a young person and who today still believe in me. So what I could see was there was an incredible focus on one side of the ledger, and that’s important, but also, the other side of the ledger from the grassroots level, there needed to be at least some support, some encouragement, and then let’s bring men together.
So I’m really pleased that NPY Women’s Council through the Uti Kulintjaku men’s project, those men are coming together, and they know that they’re being charged with this responsibility to think about how we can reduce violence against women and children and our communities. They understand that. And what those men are saying, and they come from right across the NPY region, ‘We want the violence to stop. Locking up men is not the answer; we have to do work that’s early preventative work, and we as men, as leaders, need to be more active in this area.’ So to me, while we focus on the absolute response that we have to give to women who are unsafe and who need that support and the service, and through the justice system, we also need to look at the other side of the ledger to support men, and actually give men the recognition, but also the support to be able to start taking their place in leadership in this area. And Charlie King and others are doing good work. And it has to be at that grassroots level.
PAUL BARCLAY: That’s Charlie, the former ABC broadcaster from the territory, yes?
ANDREA MASON: Yes, the No More campaign.
PAUL BARCLAY: Yes, fantastic. That’s good to hear, we’ll keep an eye on that project. That’s sounding very promising. John, you work in the education, in the field of education at universities. This is an area too where there has been some improvement for Indigenous Australians. There are now Indigenous lawyers and doctors. I know a number of them. There are Indigenous academics like yourself. There are more than 16,000 Indigenous students in higher education in Australia now and we know how important education is to get that foot up, to you know, lift yourself from disadvantage. How would you say that’s going, and what more needs to be done in the area of Indigenous education to get more Indigenous people into education, through schools, into universities?
JOHN MAYNARD: Yes, absolutely critically important. I mean, we’ve seen incredible growth. It’s not that long ago that 64–65 Charlie Perkins and Gary Williams at the University of Sydney. I mean, the big growth’s come since the 1980s, and I mean I certainly can speak on the University of Newcastle, but this is a thing happening nationally. With the Wollotuka centre, we had two students and one staff member in 1983. Today we have a magnificent all-purpose building with over 40 all-Indigenous staff, with over 1000 students. That’s an incredible success. And that is because of the community there have been involved from the get-go, in regards to that outcome.
And exactly what you say, Paul. I mean, we’ve got doctors, we’ve got lawyers, we even had a pilot come through Newcastle some years back, and that is the future. I see the big shift for us coming in the next generation. We’re still treading water. There’s people like myself and many of us in higher education who have come into it late in life and that’s because of disadvantaged educational experiences in the past. I don’t have any fond memories of my school life in the  50s and 60s. There was no encouragement for me, there was nothing in the school curriculum about Aboriginal history or culture. And these are incredible changes, and as I said, but we’ve still got a long way to go.
But the big shift is coming with this next generation. Some very smart, I get to speak in schools a lot, and I said to kids today, ‘You can aim at the stars. If you want to be an astronaut, you apply yourself, you can get there.’ And there is a lot of support, we’ve got a lot of people in the school system today. But we need a lot more people as well, I mean, we’ve still got a long way to go.
PAUL BARCLAY: At that primary school, and secondary school level too, I suppose.
JOHN MAYNARD: Absolutely, absolutely.
PAUL BARCLAY: Linda, do you think we are doing enough? I mean, you’re another person, a beneficiary of education and how it can benefit Indigenous people. Are we doing enough to ensure that the foundations are there?
LINDA BURNEY: No. I don’t think we’re doing enough in terms of, not just outcomes for Aboriginal young people, but in terms of making sure that the curriculum reflects the full story of our country, so that everyone, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, actually comes through their education not thinking that learning about an Aboriginal author is unusual or different; it’s just part of what happens at school. But I do think we’ve done some terrific things in terms of education. I mean, the younger people here tonight, you’ve come through a system where you’ve learned about Aboriginal Australia from a positive perspective, whereas my own experience as a student, and I’m sure it’s the same with everyone else, was devastating as an Aboriginal student, absolutely devastating.
But the one thing that is very true about education is that we can talk about all these other things which are important, but education is the tool, in my mind. I know other people have different views, but education is the tool, is the thing that reaches into everyone’s homes. All children go to school. All parents have kids at school. All aunties have nephews or nieces at school. We all have a stake in the education system, and that’s the power of it. And part of that is making sure that the people that go through our tertiary institutions to be, become teachers, are given the confidence to be able to teach Aboriginal studies, but also to understand the intergenerational trauma and the cultural connections that Aboriginal children have, and their job is not to destroy them, but to actually strengthen them.
PAUL BARCLAY: So Linda, we are commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 67 referendum tonight, but it is also very close to the 25th anniversary of the High Court’s Mabo decision, when the highest court in the land overturned the fiction of terra nullius and affirmed the unique connection that Indigenous people in Australia have to the land, a connection that was never lost. I was living in Alice Springs as a white fella at the time that decision came down, and to a white fella, it felt important, it felt like an important acknowledgement. You know, there were white fellas who made the ruling. But we’ve heard earlier from John questioning the value of native title, you know, how it’s divided some Indigenous communities. How do you think native title has, 25 years down the track, played out for Indigenous Australians?
LINDA BURNEY: Well, I understand that there are more native title determinations today than there are claims, which is pretty amazing. Native title, individual native title claims have, in some cases, caused division, that’s true. But also, there have been great triumphs. And I will never forget the day 25 years ago. Most of us could remember it, I’m sure, it was one of those moments. I was driving down City Road towards the old Grace Brothers in Broadway, and it came on the news that terra nullius had been formally thrown out, that it was a legal fiction. And of course, terra nullius means ‘empty land,’ and that’s the way in which Australia was taken from us. And that was just extraordinary and important for Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders, but important for us as a nation. For the first time, there was a law created about Aboriginal title to country. And white men law, I mean. Our law had been around since the beginning of the first sunrise. But that was very significant.
PAUL BARCLAY: Yes. And I’ve opened up a terribly important discussion, and now I’m going to have to close it down, because we are completely out of time. It’s where we’re going to have to leave our discussion at the National Museum of Australia, commemorating 50 years since the 1967 referendum. Thanks very much to the Museum, and thanks very much to our guests, Ray Peckham, Andrea Mason, Linda Burney, and John Maynard. You’ve been listening to Big Ideas on RN. I’m Paul Barclay. Until next time, bye for now [applause].
Ah phew, I can relax a bit now. So a version of that program, a slightly edited version of what that discussion will be on the radio tomorrow night. But we’ve got a little bit of time for some questions. There is so much I didn’t cover, so much I had to chop off in the process of talking about, so if you do have a question for our guests, whack up your hand and we can get a microphone to you.
LINDA BURNEY: Uncle wants to finish his story.
PAUL BARCLAY: Uncle wants to, you want to finish your story? We’ll let Ray finish his story, and then we’ll take, if we’ve got time, then we’ll take a question from the audience. Sorry Ray, go ahead.
RAY PECKHAM: The end of the story is this. That the Aboriginal welfare board had to pay all court costs [applause] and pay Horace Saunders nine weeks of his stolen wages that he had as a fisherman. It was after made him … through the local fishery co-op that they, he established.
LINDA BURNEY: Here, here [applause].
RAY PECKHAM: And that’s it. End of story.
PAUL BARCLAY: Well if I’d known it was only going to be that little bit of extra time, I would have let you finish it [laughter].
RAY PECKHAM: Tried to tell you.
PAUL BARCLAY: Maybe the magic of the editing room, we can insert that back into the program. Thanks, Ray. Okay, question.
QUESTION: This is a question for John Maynard. One of the people selected for the Indigenous Advisory Council is Chris Sarra, and his philosophy’s the ‘Stronger Smarter’ program. And from what I know, people that have been to it, it’s having significant results. What do you think it will have as far as education goes, from primary through to tertiary education?
JOHN MAYNARD: Look I’m not an educationist as such, I’m a historian but look, for me, anything with positive results that’s happening, we’ve got to support. So I’d throw me weight behind that. If there’s results there for Indigenous kids, let’s support it.
PAUL BARCLAY: Let me just say, there is a program with Big Ideas about the ‘Smarter Stronger’ philosophy of Chris’s. He’s been on the program a number of times to talk about it. So anyone in the audience is interested in finding out a bit more, yes, it is a philosophy he’s been working on for a while, and he says it’s been getting some good results. Okay.
QUESTION: Hi, Bernadette Riley from Dubbo. Uncle Ray and I have been working on an issue that’s important to all Aboriginal people across Australia, and it’s about Aboriginal identity fraud. And people pretending or claiming to be Aboriginal, who in fact aren’t. And so the ramifications for that, and we’re not talking about the principles and the ethics of it, because you know, that’s a no-brainer for everybody in the room. But that does affect the outcomes for our data for things like closing the gap, educational outcomes. And now I find out yesterday that apparently now, for Abstudy, you just have a recorded message, and the question is ‘Are you Aboriginal or not?’ And you just say yes or no. Now previously, there were stat decs [statutory declarations] processed through federal government, state government, in New South Wales. There was ratification through the land council system. It wasn’t perfect, but at least it was something.
And you know, the 67 referendum, like we’re talking about, you’re talking about nation building, we’re talking about identity, and identity’s really important, and identity’s really important to us. And that conversation about identity fraud, something that Uncle Ray and I have, with the help of many friends, Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, have established without doubt, we have been threatened with being sued for defamation, government departments trying to intimidate us into silence and things like that. And we’ve been campaigning about this important issue for eight years. And the issue shouldn’t be about – it is for us about who is and who isn’t, but that’s our business. The issue is about people who go out of their way to be deceptive, and it’s about the criminality of the matter, and nobody’s doing anything about it. And it’s gone everywhere.
It did go to the council before you were there, several years ago, but it’s still an ongoing matter. But we would like to see some action on that, and I’m just disappointed that that issue, when we’re talking about identity a lot, and I’m hearing it a lot this week, has fallen off the table.
PAUL BARCLAY: Linda, would you like to make a comment on that?
LINDA BURNEY: I know Bernadette very well, and I know the work that both her and Uncle Ray have done, and I think the issue of identity is something that would be well worth being more understood by the broader community, Aboriginal identity. And Bernadette’s right, that some of this stuff’s our business, it’s not the business of others. But Aboriginality and identity are so fundamental to this whole discussion, and it is unacceptable if there are people purporting to be Aboriginal and they’re actually not. It’s very difficult for some Aboriginal people who have been removed or haven’t grown up with their family to actually demonstrate their Aboriginality. And of course, the way you look is not about being Aboriginal. We all look very different, just like everybody else. But the issue of people claiming Aboriginality when they’re not makes it very difficult for everyone else.
I guess the other thing, just to finish up with that. I, however, and Bernie and I have spoken about this, I find it offensive when there is a requirement to access a service of, many of the mainstream services, and you have to have a letter proving you’re Aboriginal. I find that personally difficult, because I don’t want someone else determining that for me. But on the other hand, when there are people deliberately purporting to be Aboriginal when they’re not, there is an argument for, it’s a very complex area.
PAUL BARCLAY: Yes, this is a complex question, one we probably can’t do justice to in the short amount of time we’ve got.
QUESTION: That’s just too bad. It’s about criminality – it’s about identity –
LINDA BURNEY: Yes, no, absolutely.
QUESTION: This is about a case in point and proving that somebody has acted in a deceiving way for financial benefit. Not just for financial benefit, but –
LINDA BURNEY: Tell you a funny story. When I was the – real quick. When I was the Director-General of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, the woman that was on the switchboard, great woman from on the north coast, Bundjalung woman. And this lady rung up, she said, ‘Look, I’ve just found out that my great-great-grandfather’s Aboriginal. What does that mean I can get?’ And Gayle Caldwell, bless her, said, ‘Well that means you can go to jail, you can die younger, you can be discriminated against.’ We didn’t hear back from her [laughter].
PAUL BARCLAY: Sounds like something out of that Indigenous comedy series on the ABC, Black Comedy, doesn’t it? Okay, one more question then, we’ll have to wrap it, I think.
QUESTION: Thanks, Paul. Gary Shipp, this is probably a question for both Linda and John. There was $138 million announced today by Malcolm Turnbull for Indigenous education, and he says that there has been some progress, but that’s not enough, and I think we’ve heard tonight from the panel that we do know of, you know, Aboriginal lawyers and doctors and what have you, and that’s not enough. What advice would you have for us, or advice to Malcolm Turnbull about how we can utilise that $138 million so that we can actually have the Indigenous education, educated voices and voices of Indigenous Australia in the future?
JOHN MAYNARD: Well I mean, I can say the biggest hurdle for us has always been financial, Gary, you know that. I mean, particularly for students, and over a long period of time, you lose so many students, particularly the young ones who even have their own families at that particular point. And any financial benefit to support keeping people in education is critical. I mean, that’s the thing you’ve got to be driving it. So, I mean, there’s got to be a think tank of how best we spend the money, I could think of a million things. But really supporting our kids through higher education and giving them those opportunities, I think, are critical. I can’t come up with an idea straight off the top of my head, but –
LINDA BURNEY: Well you don’t have to, John, because they’ve decided where the money’s going to go. It’s $138 million allocated to specific programs.
JOHN MAYNARD: Oh right, okay.
LINDA BURNEY: Already. A number, some of that money is money that’s been re-announced, it’s not all new money. And that’s a trick that governments use [laughter], repackaging what’s already been announced. And a lot of it is for, some of it’s for things like building a girls’ academy to the AFL’s [Australian Football League] getting, I don’t know, however much it is to build a girls’ academy up in Townsville or Cairns. So it’s all already been allocated to specific programs.
QUESTION: Ah, thanks for sharing that. You probably did know that.
ANDREA MASON: Just on that –
PAUL BARCLAY: Okay. Okay, sure.
ANDREA MASON: There’s something more, and this is something that I’ve started to understand since being in Central Australia, is the importance of the first thousand days of a child’s life. And I absolutely agree that kids in school and high school –
LINDA BURNEY: Yes, no you’re right.
ANDREA MASON: But it’s actually those kids who are being born now, and the first thousand days, that everybody in that family should be focusing on. And we talk about domestic violence between the intimate partner domestic relationship, we talk about lateral violence, and all of that is a disconnect to the most vulnerable person in that house, which is that newborn baby. And that baby is absorbing the trauma. We know that, because when babies can’t talk, they can’t run away; they stop eating. They fail to thrive. Growth faltering, doctors would say. So I think that’s also important point. And sometimes I think in the community, we talk about the things that matter most to us, but the stats show that we aren’t. And the first thousand days of a child is the most important, and if we don’t get that right, then once they get into early childhood and preschool and then grade one, every year they fall behind, because the first thousand days have been not the best for that child.
PAUL BARCLAY: That’s a really excellent point. Yes, thanks for making it [applause].
LINDA BURNEY: Last point.
QUESTION: I just want to say a couple of words. One, about my niece Bernadette … I’m Meg Huddleston. I’ve lived here in Canberra for over 30 years. I come from, I’m a road trip person from Dubbo. Raino’s my family, I’m the granddaughter of William Ferguson, who was with Ray in fighting for the 67 referendum. One thing about that is my grandfather did stand for a member of Parliament in Dubbo, and did not get many votes, but at the end of the day, he made his mark. What I’d like to say is maybe the government could look at having places for Aboriginal people like the New Zealanders have, allocated for Aboriginal people to be on, on the government, you know, like a member of Parliament.
LINDA BURNEY: Dedicated to –
QUESTION: And also in our ACT [Australian Capital Territory] government, maybe we should be looking at that also, if there’s any people here from our government in this audience.
The other thing is Aboriginality. I won’t go down that lane, because all over Australia, we’ve got the same thing. Just want to say something. When Chicka Ferguson, Chicka Dixon, he said, ‘They brought out the Aboriginality form specifically saying we identify, not only we say we’re Aboriginal, but we are proactive in the community and show that we are, people know us as being Aboriginal people in this community.’ And that’s what it’s all about. You can’t come and say, ‘Oh, I’ve just found out that my great-great-grandfather or mother was Aboriginal, so oh, what can I get?’ You don’t get much, you get nothing [laughter]. And we’ve worked hard in this community. So that’s what I’ve got to say.
LINDA BURNEY: Here, here [applause].
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Date published: 01 January 2018