Tag Archives: 1967

Fifty years on from the 1967 referendum, it’s time to tell the truth about race

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‘We cannot talk about building truthful relationships without being honest about the racialised realities of our social world.’

Chelsea Bond, The University of Queensland

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum, in a sunset ceremony in central Australia, approximately 300 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates from across Australia delivered the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Convened by the Referendum Council, the statement put forth an Indigenous Australian position on proposed constitutional reform, rejecting constitutional recognition in favour of a treaty.

Through the establishment of a Makarrata Commission (a body that would oversee agreement-making between governments and Indigenous groups), the Uluru statement expressed Indigenous peoples’ “aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia”.


Yet, 50 years ago, 90% of Australians voted in favour of what they believed would be a “fair go for Aborigines” in supporting the amendment of two clauses within the Constitution.

Fifty years on, there remain some uncomfortable truths about what those amendments did to improve the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia.

Bain Attwood and Andrew Markus have argued that the “yes” vote did little to change the administration of Indigenous affairs; nor did it grant Indigenous peoples citizenship rights, voting rights or put an end to racial discrimination.

The constitutional amendments attended to what appeared to be racially discriminatory clauses, which excluded Aboriginal people. The result may well have made Australia appear less racist, but it did not address the inherently racist nature of the constitution.

One example is the amendment to Section 51 (xxvi), referred to as the race power, which excluded Aboriginal people from the Commonwealth’s special powers to introduce laws affecting “the people of any race”.

The original intent of this clause was to enable the Commonwealth to “regulate the affairs of the people of coloured or inferior races” in restricting immigration of non-white non-British populations.

In 1901, the Commonwealth’s power was put to work with the introduction of the Immigration Restriction Act, known as the White Australia Policy, and was rationalised by the then prime minister, Sir Edmund Barton. He said:

I do not think either that the doctrine of the equality of man was really ever intended to include racial equality. There is no racial equality. There is that basic inequality. These races are, in comparison with white races — I think no one wants convincing of this fact — unequal and inferior.

Campaigning on the 1967 referendum.
AAP/National Library of Australia

It is hard to imagine how our inclusion as a raced people within this racially discriminatory clause would be emancipatory. In being raced, we were not just named – we were claimed.

When the First Fleet arrived in 1788 on the land of the Gadigal people, it did not just bring convicts, marines, seamen and civil officers. It also brought with it “the Aborigine”, and our racialised construction as Aborigines has served the colonial project well.

Being an Aborigine has circumscribed our being, our relationship to this place and to the state. In being raced, we have become known by the state and through our relationship with it. It has cemented a relationship of power over us, physically, morally, intellectually, politically and legislatively.

Racism is not just echoed in the words of right-wing commentators or the jokes of professional football players; it is ingrained in our society, enshrined in our institutions and our legislation. Race is inescapable and it has been central to the colonial project.

We cannot talk about building truthful relationships without being honest about the racialised realities of our social world.

As a racialised subject, I have been subjected to lies dressed up as racialised truths that insist upon our inferiority. Every day, we are forced to contest these lies while having to live with them. In order to get by and get on in a social world that discounts us, we create for ourselves other lies.

I remember the words of my father growing up, insisting that if I worked ten times harder than them, that I would “make it” – that it was possible to rise above my station, to rise above race. These were lies that we lived with in order to make the injustice of the world seem less insurmountable.

But I cannot be blinded to the ways in which my presence is read racially, regardless of how hard-working I am, how articulate I might be or how acceptable my presence might appear.

It does not inhibit the surveillance by police who perceive my presence as a predisposition to an unknown criminal act.

It does not inhibit a rendering of me as an Aboriginal mother or my husband as an Aboriginal father being deemed at risk of not being able to look after my children properly.

It does not prevent colleagues from seeing my presence as a scholar as an equity act, as an accommodation of my intellectual incapacity or as a cultural broker to white knowing.

The lie I can no longer live with is the insistence that our racialised being can be remedied through our own efforts: that if we just acted better, if we just articulated ourselves better, that if we were recognised better, that our lives would be better.

I don’t know if we can overcome race completely, but I do know that we cannot minimise the power of race by ignoring the power of race. Race was the foundation on which this nation was built and it continues to structure our society, its institutions and social life.

We cannot build a better nation by simply piling new bricks or new clauses to cement over the reality of race and the way it manifests interpersonally and institutionally.

While it was a remarkable feat that, 50 years ago, 90% of Australians supported in principle the idea of a fair go for Aborigines, we cannot get too swept away with the idea that the attending to the power of race is unfinished, or that it is confined to a constitutional clause or two.

At every turn, conversations about race are downplayed, dismissed or booed into submission. It would appear that more effort in this country is spent on not looking racist than on not being racist. The danger of the next step (in whatever direction that might be) is that we will fail to tell the truth about race.

We can only hope that the federal government and the Australian people will heed Indigenous peoples’ call for a “fair and truthful relationship” through a fair and truthful conversation about the power of race in maintaining power over Indigenous peoples’ lives and lands.

The ConversationThis essay is an excerpt from Chelsea Bond’s keynote address at the State Library of Queensland’s 50 Years and Counting event.

Chelsea Bond, Senior Lecturer, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit (ATSIS Unit), The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Defying Empire: the legacy of 1967

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Brenda L. Croft.
shut/mouth/scream (detail) 2016
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

Joanna Mendelssohn, UNSW

The Third National Indigenous Art Triennial: Defying Empire at the National Gallery of Australia would have been unimaginable 50 years ago. Despite the widespread goodwill towards Aboriginal people in 1967, there was little recognition that they had a living visual culture. Those few curators, such as the late Tony Tuckson, who admired the aesthetic qualities of the intricate forms made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in remote areas of the north, rejected as kitsch works by artists such as Albert Namatjira who incorporated western traditions.

For the last three decades, Indigenous artists working in non-traditional media have made their mark, including at the two preceding National Indigenous Art Triennials and at national and international art exhibitions – including the Venice Biennale. It is not news to say that some of Australia’s most admired artists are Indigenous, so why is Defying Empire such a satisfying exhibition?

It all comes back to that year, 1967. Curator Tina Baum has woven a narrative and an argument around the legacy of that remarkable act of national unity when 90.77% of Australians voted to include Aboriginal people in the census, and to enable laws to be made on their behalf.

Ray Ken of the Pitjantjatjara/Yankunyatjara peoples and Lola Greeno of the Pakana people were adults in 1967. Maree Clarke of the Mutti Mutti/ Yorta Yorta/Wurrung peoples was a small child. Karla Dickens, a Wuradjuri woman was born months after, while Sebastian Arrow of the Yawuru came a generation later in 1994 – but all the artists here can claim to be heirs of the Referendum.

Judy Watson, the names of places 2016 – part of a project to record all the sites of massacres of Aboriginal people in Australia.
Courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery

The word “1967” dominates Reko Rennie’s NGA Play installation at the entrance foyer of the building. This forms part of a special interactive project created for the exhibition, challenging adults and children alike. His defiant banner, Always Here, waves at the top of the escalators. His traditional Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay patterns also evoke camouflage.

Reko Rennie’s Royal Flag 2013, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
Purchased 2013.


Some Indigenous Australians survived over the years by camouflaging who they were, protected by paler skin. Others were stolen, their true identities hidden from themselves by the camouflage of institutional lies. This second history of camouflage is especially relevant to Reko Rennie’s OA RR, a gloriously dappled Rolls Royce parked at the National Gallery’s entrance.

Rennie’s grandmother was stolen and in her honour he has recorded his return to Kamilaroi land, filming from above the circular tracks in the red dirt made by the car to assert the ownership of the Kamilaroi people.

Stolen children

The running sore of the legacy of the stolen children runs through Defying Empire. Many of the artists are descendents of stolen children, but for Sandra Hill it is even more immediate. She is a Nyoongar woman who as a child was stolen, as were her mother and grandmother before her. In her Thin Veneer, layers of varnished wood stamp out the homogenised pattern into which she can never fit.

That question of identity lies at the core of Brenda L. Croft’s work. Croft was the curator of Culture Warriors, the first National Indigenous Triennial in 2007, but in recent years has turned her gaze away from the work of others and onto the legacy of her father Joe who was stolen from his Gurindji/Malgnin/Mudparra family when a small child. Her journey back to Gurindji country and the consequence of the Wave Hill walk-off is explored in great detail at Still in my mind, currently on view at UNSW Galleries.

The NGA work focuses on the tough landscape around Wave Hill, the remarkable portrait shut/mouth/scream, based on a fragment study of her grandmother’s face.

Brenda L. Croft shut/mouth/scream (detail) 2016.
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

As well as children stolen, the history of race relations in Australia is of people murdered, sometimes indiscriminately as in Judy Watson’s exquisite record, the names of places – part of a project to record all the sites of massacres of Aboriginal people in Australia.

Then there are the particular events. Dale Harding’s their little black slaves perished in isolation evokes the 1930 killing of a girl forced into domestic labour and killed when her wooden prison shack caught fire. Harding’s reconstruction includes the pungent smell of the black burnt walls. Harding, a descendent of the Bidjara, Ghungalu and Garingbal peoples, is only too aware of the extent of the massacres in Queensland in the 19th century.

Dale Harding Black days in the Dawson River Country – Remembrance gowns (detail) 2016.
Courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery

Black days in the Dawson River Country places Victorian style dresses to commemorate the murder of a young girl, killed in broad daylight in the main street of the town now known as Toowoomba. Her murderer (wrongly) claimed she was wearing a dress owned by his murdered mother.

Yhonnie Scarce Thunder Raining Poison 2015, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
Purchased 2016. This acquisition has been supported by Susan Armitage in recognition of the 50th Anniversary of the 1967 Referendum.

Janelle Low

Not all the deaths were deliberate. The glass artist Yhonnie Scarce, of the Kokatha/Nukunu peoples in South Australia, was born in Woomera. She has created Thunder Raining Poison, where glass yams evoke the poison rain that fell on her grandfather’s country at Maralinga bringing sickness and death. Her magnificent control of the medium is seen in the Glass Bomb (Blue Danube) series where dark glass yams are contained in larger glass bombs – blown glass inside blown glass.

The colonial legacies of mass killings are also at the core of work by Julie Gough, from the Trawlwoolway people of Tasmania. Her Hunting Ground videos revisit the site of some of the terrible massacres of the early 19th century, and incorporate reproductions of the smug letters recording the deaths of hundreds of people, offering their bodies for dissection.

A fellow Tasmanian, Lola Greeno of the Pakena people, works in the ancient tradition of making shell necklaces, which she has exhibited for many years. She has produced a virtuoso series of works, with large mussel shells interspersing more delicate shapes. I have become so used to seeing (and admiring) her work over the years that it was a surprise to see her strike a different note.

Lola Greeno’s Green Maireener shell necklace 2016.
Courtesy of the artist and Handmark Gallery

The room in which Greeno’s work is displayed is near the entrance to the dedicated exhibition space, and is almost a separate homage to the first generation of Indigenous artists to have lived most of their creative life recognised as such.

Greeno from Tasmania, Yvonne Koolmatrie of the Ngarrindjeri people from South Australia, Pedro Wonseaamirri of the Tiwi people from Melville Island and Ken Thaiday senior of the Mariam Mer people of the Torres Strait, have well established records of exhibiting their work in national and international exhibitions.

Koolmatrie’s giant woven eel traps and baskets floated in the Australian pavillion in the Venice Biennale in 1997, her style is well established. But as well as the more familiar works, confidently executed, the exhibition includes a woven spiny echidna, complete with genuine echidna quills.

Ken Thaiday senior’s work has evolved from his original headdresses used in Torres Strait Island dance, to giant variations on these. His presence, along with that of Brian Robinson is a reminder that the reason the National Gallery has named this exhibition the Indigenous Triennial and not Aboriginal is that the people of the Torres Strait Islands may relate to Aboriginal culture, but remain distinct.

It brings into focus the central curatorial concern: how to show the complexities and the unities of an Indigenous culture that crosses both geography and generations, that deals with loss and redemption, that recognises the continuing intermingling of blood in what might be eight generations of colonisation, and yet never loses identity.

There’s a sense of the this in Raymond Zada’s video installation, At Face Value, that morphs a series of faces from black to blonde, from male to female, in a continual questioning of the notion of identity.

Tony Albert The Hand You’re Dealt 2016, Courtesy of the artist and Sullivan + Strumpf.
Sam Noonan

Tony Albert of Queensland’s Girramay/Yidinji/Kuku-Yalanji peoples has a different take on the notion of identity. He honours the many Indigenous soldiers who fought in Australia’s wars as equals to their white comrades only to face discrimination on their return. This is a part of a continuing project on his part as he is also responsible for the Aboriginal war memorial in Sydney’s Hyde Park.

Albert’s work hangs near the quiet exposition of the most enduring act of defiance of empire – Jonathan Jones and Uncle Stan Grant Senior reinserting traditional Wiradjuri murru (design) into 19th century colonial prints. Uncle Stan Grant Senior has been a leader in the revival of Wiradjuri as a living language, which is also a part of the national revival of Aboriginal languages and the recovery of lost histories.

The defiance of Empire is not about being brash, but about endurance. While empires rise, they also fall. Those who appeared be conquered are now seen to be the long-term victors.

The ConversationDefying Empire is at the National Gallery of Australia from 26 May – 10 September 2017.

Joanna Mendelssohn, Honorary Associate Professor, Art & Design: UNSW Australia. Editor in Chief, Design and Art of Australia Online, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

‘Right wrongs, write Yes’: what was the 1967 referendum all about?

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At a demonstration, Faith Bandler (right) and her daughter Lilon (2R) appeal to national unity as grounds for constitutional amendment.
Aboriginal Studies Press

Russell McGregor, James Cook University

On May 27, 1967, campaigners for Aboriginal rights and status won the most-decisive referendum victory in Australian history.

The referendum attracted more than 90% of voters in favour of deleting the two references to Aborigines in Australia’s Constitution. Campaigners for a “Yes” vote successfully argued those references were discriminatory and debarred Aboriginal people from citizenship.

Ever since, and as we approach the 1967 referendum’s 50th anniversary, it has been popularly remembered as the moment when Aboriginal people won equal rights – even the right to vote. In fact, the referendum did not secure those outcomes.

By 1967, all Aboriginal adults already held the right to vote in federal, state and territory elections. Racial discriminations had been removed from the statute books at the federal level and in all states and territories except Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. And even those three laggards were moving toward legal equality.

So what was achieved?

Constitutionally, the 1967 referendum secured the amendment of Section 51 (xxvi) and the deletion of Section 127.

The former section specified the federal parliament could make laws with respect to the:

… people of any race, other than the Aboriginal race in any state, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws.

The words “other than the Aboriginal race in any state” were deleted.

The latter section stipulated that in:

… reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a state or other part of the Commonwealth, Aboriginal natives shall not be counted.

Neither section prevented Aboriginal people from exercising the same legal rights as other Australians. The rights of Aborigines were abridged not by the Constitution, but by laws enacted by federal and state parliaments.

Two days before the referendum, the Sydney Morning Herald published this photograph.
above the caption: ‘Racial discrimination – what’s that?’

Sydney Morning Herald

How was the campaign run?

Campaigners for a “Yes” vote, however, told a different story. They insisted constitutional change was a necessary precondition for Aboriginal equality.

Yet the campaigners’ ambitions went beyond legal equality. They sought the inclusion of Aboriginal people as respected members of the national community. This had been a principal goal of Aboriginal and pro-Aboriginal activists since the early 20th century.

The 1967 referendum was the culmination of a long struggle for rights and respect, for social esteem as well as equality before the law.

Accordingly, publicity material for the “Yes” campaign did not focus narrowly on the legal implications of constitutional change. More often, it exhorted Australians to welcome Aboriginal people into the fellowship of the nation. As the opening line of a popular campaign song ran:

Vote “Yes” for Aborigines, they want to be Australians too.

Effectively, the proponents of a Yes vote transformed what could have been a dry, legalistic tinkering with the Constitution into a plebiscite on Australian nationhood.

In achieving this transformation, the campaigners held an unusual advantage. Uniquely among Australian referendums, for the 1967 question on Aborigines there was no campaign for a “No” vote. And even the government broke with convention by providing, in the official advice to voters, only the case for “Yes”. Consequently, campaigners could talk up the importance of the changes they advocated virtually unrestrained.

New South Wales campaign director Faith Bandler told voters:

When you write Yes in the lower square of your ballot paper you are holding out the hand of friendship and wiping out nearly 200 years of injustice and inhumanity.

Hyperbole of this kind is not unusual in political campaigns. What was unusual is that there was no organised opposition to contest the claims of the Yes campaigners, or to counter them with equally extravagant rhetoric for the negative.

Much of the publicity material for a Yes vote was couched in broad terms of rectifying past wrongs.
Gordon Bryant Papers/NLA

The lack of a “No” campaign undoubtedly boosted the “Yes” vote. It was equally important in shaping remembrance of the referendum.

Lacking an opposition, the “Yes” campaigners had a virtual monopoly on the narratives about what the referendum meant. Their expansive conception of the referendum as a plebiscite on nationhood prevailed.

A symbolic win

The triumph of the “Yes” vote was primarily a symbolic victory. It did not win rights for Aborigines, and the government of the day did not utilise the extension of Commonwealth powers secured by amendment of Section 51 (xxvi). Nor did Gough Whitlam’s government after it came to power in 1972.

Whitlam did, however, invoke the resounding “Yes” vote of 1967 as a moral mandate for change in Aboriginal affairs.

Symbolic victories are important. Shortly after hearing of the massive “Yes” majority, veteran Aboriginal activist Pastor Doug Nicholls proclaimed it was:

… evidence that Australians recognise Aborigines are part of the nation.

As Nicholls knew from three decades of involvement in Aboriginal politics, recognition of his people as part of the nation was a hard-fought achievement.

Regardless of its slight legal consequences, the 1967 referendum was an important event in Australian history. It was a symbolic affirmation of Aboriginal people’s acceptance into the community of the nation.

The ConversationYet the referendum affirmed only the broad principle of national inclusion. On how that principle should be translated into practice – on the terms of inclusion – the referendum was silent.

Russell McGregor, Adjunct Professor of History, James Cook University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia: Prime Minister Harold Holt’s Disappearance

The link below is to an article that takes a look at the disappearance of Australian prime minister Harold Holt in 1967.

For more visit:

Today in History: 27 May 1967

USA: The USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) Launched

On this day in 1967, the US Navy aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) (John F. Kennedy-class aircraft carrier) was launched and was commissioned on the 7th September 1968. It was the last conventionally powered aircraft carrier built for the US Navy. ‘Big John,’ as it is known, was named after former US president John F. Kennedy. The carrier was decommissioned on the 1st August 2007. The carrier’s name will be carried by the future Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy (CVN-79).

For more visit:

Today in History: 19 January 1839

Aden: Captured by the British East India Company

On this day on the 19th January 1839, Royal Marines were landed by the British East India Company, to seize territory including Aden (now part of Yemen) that had been ceded to the British in 1838 by Sultan Muhsin bin Fadl. The area was being used by pirates to attack British shipping bound for India. It remained under British control until 1967.

Today in History – 15 May 1940

USA: The First McDonald’s Restaurant Opens In San Bernardino, California

On this day in 1940 the first McDonald’s Restaurant opened in San Bernardino, California in the United States. This first restaurant was opened by Richard and Maurice McDonald. Ronald McDonald didn’t arrive on the scene until 1967.

Australia’s first McDonald’s restaurant opened in 1971 in Yagoona (Sydney), New South Wales, Australia. There are now almost 800 McDonald’s restaurants around the country.

For more on McDonald’s and there history visit:


For more on McDonald’s in Australia visit:

McDonald’s on Facebook


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