The Changing Nature of Aboriginal and Non-aboriginal Relations in Australia from 1946-2000
Since the arrival of Europeans the Aboriginal population has suffered
in terms of status, wealth, health and sense of identity. Although
there have been steps towards reconciliation there is still a long way
to go until Indigenous Australians enjoy the same status as
non-indigenous Australians. A referendum was made in 1967, it was a
hallmark in Aboriginal history. It was the beginning of the righting
of the wrongs that had been committed against the Australian
indigenous population since the arrival of white settlers. The
referendum was the first time that Aboriginal people were fully
acknowledged as Australian citizens.
The difficulty of Aborigines to be recognised as citizens began many
years before 1967 and many events occurred in the lead up to the
referendum. In 1957 a petition collected by Jessie Street was read in
the House of Representatives.
A popular fallacy is the belief that the 1967 referendum provided
aborigines with the right to vote. Aboriginal people became eligible
to vote in 1962 (except in Queensland, it wasn't until 1965 that
Queensland Aboriginals became eligible to vote). State Governments
felt forced into this action as they were faced with a growing public
concern and anger over the treatment of Aboriginals. Discriminatory
pieces of Legislation were canceled and a new Commonwealth Electoral
Act was formed. The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1962 entitled
'Aboriginal natives of Australia' to enroll and vote as electors.
One event that was held to bring attention to the dilemma of
Aboriginals was the 1965 Freedom Ride, which was lead by Charles
Perkins with a group of other Sydney University Students. The aim of
the 3200-km ride was to gain the public and media attention to the
discriminatory practices directed against Aboriginals in rural
The Menzies government in 1965 put forward a bill that would repeal
section 127 of the constitution but would leave section 51 unchanged.
Menzies reasoned that 'The words are a protection against
discrimination by the Commonwealth parliament in respect of
Aborigines' (John Gardiner-Garden 1997). Both Houses passed the
proposed bill but it lapsed as no further action was taken.
A new government took office and in 1967 the new Prime Minister,
Harold Holt, announced that his government intended to reintroduce the
1965 bill but with new amendments. He intended to also include section
51 as well as section 127. As leader of the opposition, Gough Whitlam
supported the bill, as it would allow the Federal government, for the
first time, to assist our indigenous population. Mr. Holt announced on
March 14th 1967 that a referendum would be held after the proposed act
passed through both houses. Within the referendum...