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Black and white portrait of a man. - click to view larger image
Bill Onus

1906 to 1968

Bill Onus, along with his brother Eric Onus and Doug Nicholls, was responsible for reviving the Australian Aborigines' League, an all-Aboriginal organisation established by William Cooper in 1936.

Bill Onus was born on the Cummeragunja Reserve on the New South Wales bank of the Murray River. After moving to Melbourne he became politically active, working for legislative reform in Victoria, and later campaigning to save Lake Tyers.

After seeing the Warburton Ranges film brought back to Melbourne by Doug Nicholls, Bill Onus spoke to a Melbourne suburban meeting in 1957 telling his audience to 'back the move for a new deal for ALL Aboriginals. You are the invaders'.

He argued for federal control of Aboriginal affairs and later played an active part in the campaign for a referendum in 1967, speaking publicly in favour of a YES vote.

As the first Aboriginal president of the Aborigines' Advancement League, Bill Onus made public pleas for Lake Tyers to be retained as a staging centre for Aboriginal people not yet ready to move into white communities. He was present at the first meeting of the Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement as an observer for the Australian Aborigines' League.

Explore more on Collaborating for Indigenous Rights 1957–1973

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