Collaborating for Indigenous Rights explores the campaigns waged in postwar Australia to overturn discriminatory laws and expose racism.
The years from 1957 to 1973 bridge an earlier society expressed in the Bulletin magazine's masthead slogan 'Australia for the white man' and a later society, marked by the election of a reformist Labor government which began to address this damaging legacy.
These campaigns are of two fundamentally different kinds:
- those for civil rights
- those for land rights
Campaigns to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians were treated as Australian citizens meant changing laws, challenging racist behaviour and holding a mirror up to society to expose the ugliness and injustice of people's rights being abrogated on racial grounds. These campaigns are explored in the Civil Rights section of this site which focuses on seven different campaigns.
The other main section in this site, Land Rights, takes a case study approach to campaigns through the 1960s which argued — in legal, moral and economic terms — for Indigenous Australians' rights to their lands. Four sites of conflict are explored. Two additional sections on land rights campaigns and the Aboriginal Tent Embassy show the development of broadening community support for this idea.
The collaboration between black and white activists during these years was crucial to the campaigns which did succeed. A national grassroots movement evolved, and while racial and political tensions were always present, the Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement (later the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, FCAATSI) is a unique phenomenon in the history of Australian race relations. Its work is one of the few examples of an Australia-wide body of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians functioning and achieving results as a national pressure group.
The People section of this site recognises the importance of individuals who worked together on particular campaigns. Many of the Aboriginal and Islander people mentioned here dedicated their entire lives to working for their people. A good number of their white supporters also made 'the struggle for Aboriginal rights', as they often called it, central to their lives.
This was a people's movement and, while almost a hundred activists have been recognised here, there are many others still to be added. Some have deposited their papers in libraries; others have left trails that are more difficult to follow. We are grateful to the families of some of the people mentioned here for information provided.
We encourage the families of activists not yet on the site to contact the Museum if they would like a family member to be recognised.
The Organisations section shows the diverse bodies working in support of Aboriginal justice. This is not yet comprehensive. At its height FCAATSI had 68 organisations affiliated with it. This section illustrates the skilful planning, work and cooperation required in a national grassroots movement before there were mobile phones, cheap air travel and government subsidies.
There is a timeline of key events for this period. The movement for social change did not happen in isolation. Australia, while relatively isolated in the 1960s, was nevertheless influenced by events elsewhere in the world. For this reason, key international events, especially relating to race politics, are included.
The National Museum of Australia and Ryebuck Media have prepared two inquiry-learning units of work to help students interrogate and make sense of the wealth of primary source material that can be found on the Collaborating for Indigenous Rights website. Both units have a strong investigative focus.
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The author of this website is Dr Sue Taffe. The site design is copyright National Museum of Australia. Copyright in other material on the site belongs to individual copyright holders.
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National Museum of Australia
Collaborating for Indigenous Rights
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Program
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Tel +61 2 6208 5000
Fax +61 2 6208 5099
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The research project that resulted in this website was funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) as an ARC Linkage Project in which universities and industry partners worked together over three years, 2004–2007, to bring the project to fruition. All of the institutions and their staff were generous with their time and resources. Other libraries and museums also provided generous support and assistance.
The following organisations, individuals and families have contributed to the development of this site in many ways. These include providing and giving permission to use photographs and documents, providing advice regarding the development of the structure of the site, and being readers, editors and sometimes writers of the text.
This website would not have been possible without the support of the following individuals: Jill Abdullah, Robert Anderson, Karlene Appleton, Professor Bain Attwood, the Bilson family, Josie Briggs, Diane Clark, Dr Barry Christophers, Daguragu Community Council, Dr Bill Edwards, Dr Frank Engel, Dr Julie Fenwick, Winifred Hilliard, Jack Horner, Kukatja Community Council, Kathy Lothian, Bernadette Maher, the McGinness family, Professor Andrew Markus, Linda McBride, Robert Oke, the O'Shane family, Pauline Pickford, Dr Barrie Pittock, Professor Marian Quartly, Dr Liz Reed, Dr Jan Richardson, Professor Lynette Russell, Dianne Singh, Ian Spalding, Gillian Upton, Pat Whitla and Emil Witton.
Art Direction Creative, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Battye Library, University of Western Australia, Library and Information Service of Western Australia, National Archives of Australia, National Library of Australia, Northern Territory Archives, Northern Territory Library and Information Service, Public Record Office of Victoria, Queensland Museum, State Library of Victoria, and State Library of New South Wales. The website is hosted by the National Museum of Australia.
This website contains many documents — letters, government files and reports, legislation — from the past. Some of the language used in these documents will be offensive; it reflects the usage of the times.
The content on this website was researched and written by Dr Sue Taffe as part of an Australian Research Council (ARC) project. As is the case for scholarly publications in printed form, the selection of material, interpretations of events and opinions expressed on this website are the author's alone and do not represent the views of the publisher, the National Museum of Australia.
Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of material in this website at the time of publication in April 2008. Inevitably, as new evidence becomes available, understanding and interpretation will change. We welcome ongoing discussion and debate.
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