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Explore some of the objects linked to key people and milestone events in Indigenous activism in Australia.
Anthony Martin Fernando’s notebook
Anthony Martin Fernando’s notebook, 1929–30. On loan from Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).
During the 1920s an isolated Indigenous voice of protest was being expressed overseas. Anthony Martin Fernando, born in Sydney to an Aboriginal mother and a father of South Asian heritage, conveyed his dissent through spoken, written and performative protest.
He kept diaries detailing his activism in Britain and Europe. In 1928 he marched outside Australia House in London wearing a coat covered in miniature skeletons, with a sign proclaiming: ‘This is all that Australia has left of my people’.
Banner made by Bill Onus
Australian Aborigines League banner made by Bill Onus, late 1940s or early 1950s. National Museum of Australia.
Bill Onus, a Wiradjuri man born in 1906 on Cummeragunja Aboriginal Reserve in southern New South Wales, was one of the most prominent Aboriginal activists of his time. With his brother Eric and Pastor Doug Nicholls he revived the Australian Aborigines League, whose activities had dwindled after William Cooper’s death in 1941.
Onus used his skills as an orator and organiser to challenge the Victorian Aboriginal Protection Board and argue for federal control of Aboriginal affairs.
Provisional Government passport
Passport issued by the Aboriginal Provisional Government, 1990. On loan from Brenda L Croft.
The Aboriginal Provisional Government (APG) was formed by Indigenous activists in 1990 as a platform to campaign for self-determination and self-government.
The APG rejected Indigenous assimilation into the Australian state. It demonstrated this by adopting some of the same administrative procedures as the governments of sovereign states, such as issuing passports and birth certificates for its citizens.
Communist Party land rights banner
Land rights banner used by members of the Communist Party of Australia in Sydney, about 1982. National Museum of Australia. Donated by Mr Peter A Murphy, Sydney District Committee, Communist Party of Australia
At the time of the 1967 referendum, the Communist Party of Australia gained support from Indigenous rights campaigners for their vocal stance against racially discriminatory policies. This support continued in the years after the referendum as the focus of Indigenous rights campaigning moved to land rights.
Joe McGinness’s wharfie's hook and tuckerbox
Joe McGinness’s wharfie’s hook, 1950s, and tuckerbox, in use 1960s–70s. National Museum of Australia. Donated by Don Allen.
Joe McGinness was from the Kungarakany people of the Northern Territory on his mother’s side, and of Irish heritage on his father’s side. As a child he was made a ward of the state.
He later served in Borneo during the Second World War, then worked on the wharves in Queensland, joining the Waterside Workers’ Federation. His trade union experience served him well in his role as president of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) from 1961 to 1977.
As president, McGinness (also spelt McGinniss) travelled around northern Queensland and the Northern Territory campaigning on civil rights issues. His tuckerbox was an essential item on bush trips, and it still bears the marks of the tins it carried.
Faith Bandler’s gloves
Faith Bandler’s gloves, about 1960s. National Museum of Australia. Donated by Faith Ida Lessing Bandler.
Faith Bandler is best known as one of the lead activists in the 1967 referendum campaign. Her father, a South Sea Islander, had been brought to Queensland as an unpaid labourer in the 19th century to work on the cane fields.
Bandler, whose mother was of Indian–Scottish descent, recalled wearing her white gloves when addressing predominantly white female audiences during her campaigning. More on Faith Bandler's gloves
1967 referendum campaign badge
‘Vote YES’ badge, 1967. National Museum of Australia. Donated by Deborah Turner.
1967 referendum campaign pamphlet'YES’ for Aborigines pamphlet, 1967. National Museum of Australia. Donated by Janelle Marshall, the child pictured on the pamphlet. More on the 1967 referendum
Jimmy Clements's nulla (club)
Nulla (club) belonging to Jimmy Clements, about 1912. National Museum of Australia.
On 9 May 1927, Parliament House was officially opened in Canberra. Two Wiradjuri elders were present: Jimmy Clements, also known as ‘King Billy’, or Nangar, and John Noble, also known as ‘Marvellous’.
Clements walked about 120 kilometres from Brungle mission near Tumut to attend. His presence was reported as demonstrating ‘his sovereign rights to the Federal Territory’.
Stan Davey’s tape recorder
Stan Davey’s tape recorder and reels, about 1970s. National Museum of Australia. Donated by Dr Jan Richardson.
Stan Davey had been a Church of Christ minister until the 1950s, when he visited Aboriginal communities in Victoria and realised his calling was to join the cause for Indigenous rights.
Davey, who had co-founded the Aborigines Advancement League in 1957, received this tape recorder as a gift from the organisation on his retirement. He used it to continue reporting on the plight of Aboriginal people around Australia, using his connection with activist groups in Sydney and Melbourne to raise their concerns nationally.
Barrie Pittock’s headband
Barrie Pittock’s headband, 1970. National Museum of Australia. Donated by Dr Barrie Pittock.
At the 1970 Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) conference, non-Indigenous activist Barrie Pittock put forward a controversial motion to change the organisation’s constitution to allow only Indigenous people to serve on the executive committee.
Supporters of the motion wore red headbands. While the motion failed to pass, it led to the establishment of the National Tribal Council, pushing for Indigenous self-determination.
Wave Hill spur
Wave Hill spur. On loan from Dr Darrell Lewis.
This spur was made for respected stockman Peter ‘Sabu’ Sing, who was born at Delamere station in 1940 to a Wardaman mother and Chinese father. He was fostered as a child by Tom Fisher, manager of Wave Hill station when Aboriginal stockmen and their families walked off in a strike for equal wages in 1966.
The spur was made by Fred Gutte, a blacksmith at Wave Hill during the 1940s and 50s. Wave Hill spurs were prized items on stock routes and stations across northern Australia.
Wave Hill Walk-Off leaflet
Boycott Vestey Products leaflet, about 1970. National Museum of Australia. Donated by Mr Andrew Reeves.
For the Gurindji people the Wave Hill Walk-Off was not just about working conditions, it was also about land. They put in a claim for their country – then leased by the powerful English pastoral company Vesteys.
Nine years later, after a dedicated national campaign, the Wave Hill lease was surrendered and two new leases were issued: one to the Vesteys and one to the Gurindji people.
Frank Hardy's pipe
Frank Hardy’s pipe, after 1960s. National Museum of Australia. Donated by Mr Alan Hardy.
Frank Hardy was inspired by the Gurindji cause to write his book The Unlucky Australians.One of the strike leaders, Mick Rangiari, said that Hardy’s spirit will always remain with the Gurindji people.
Alan Hardy, Frank’s son, 2008: ‘You can’t see him but I can see him. He comes to me at night … smoking his pipe, and we sit and have a yarn.’
1960s ballot box
Ballot box, 1960s. On loan from the Australian Electoral Commission.
On 27 May 1967, Australians cast their vote in a referendum to change the Constitution. Both sides of politics, including the Liberal government and the Labor Opposition, supported the amendment.
The emphatic ‘yes’ vote resulted in the removal of two references in the Constitution that discriminated against Aboriginal people and enabled the federal government to legislate for all Indigenous people. Many saw these changes as a recognition of Aboriginal people as full Australian citizens.
Aboriginal Tent Embassy sign
Land rights sign from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra, about 1972. National Museum of Australia. Donated by Mr Charles Nelson Perkins.
The Aboriginal Tent Embassy was founded by Indigenous activists from New South Wales in 1972. Originally established under a beach umbrella, a tent was donated by a non-Indigenous supporter, and the embassy quickly drew hundreds of supporters – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – to Canberra in support.
Did you know the National Museum holds more than 2000 works from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Art collection? See all the works in our Collection Explorer