A History of the Australian Aboriginal Civil Rights Movement

Essay by Luke Foster

“The Australian civil rights movement was a decades-long movement where Indigenous Australians and non-indigenous Australians worked together to fight for equal rights for Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. The movement started to gain attention and momentum from the 1950s onwards.” Google

I like this quote but also feel it’s an ongoing movement.

The civil rights movement for African Americans picked up momentum with the campaigning of Martin Luther King that culminated with his iconic I have a dream speech on the footsteps of the White House. This also influenced civil rights movements around the world including Australia.

Perhaps in Australia the figurehead in the past has been Eddie Mabo who campaigned for parcels of land to be repatriated to Aboriginal Australians and was eventually successful.

The following quote is about some of the goals of the civil rights movement in Australia.

“Activists kept fighting for improved health and education, land rights and an end to the forced removal of Indigenous children from their families. Underpinning all these goals was constitutional reform, which led to the referendum of 1967.” Google/ People also ask.

The following is a list of important civil rights that Aboriginals missed out on until their campaigning has been successful, but more can be done I think if Australians vote yes in the coming referendum that alters the Australian Constitution to include Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders rights.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples were excluded from the census and denied the same citizenship rights as white people. They weren’t allowed to vote, enlist in the armed services, or even receive pensions. Additionally, they weren’t protected by the same laws as white Australians. “Google People Also Ask

Another example of the civil rights movement in Australia was The Freedom Ride of 1965.

The Freedom Ride 1965

“In 1965 Charlie Perkins led a group of university students from the University of Sydney across regional NSW, protesting the treatment of First Australians in regional towns in what was known as the Freedom Ride.” Google/ People Also Ask

However, as I have said before that this referendum gives voice to all Australians as it’s a great attribute of a democratic country and as important as a democratic election and some people will vote no but will still have progressive views that the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders can be furthered in other ways.

Another iconic part of the civil rights movement in Australia is the Aboriginal Tent Embassy that started outside the old Parliament House in the year of my birth 1972.

Establishment of Aboriginal Tent Embassy on Australia Day, 26 January 1972. From left: Michael Anderson, Billie Craigie, Bert Williams, and Tony Coorey. Photo: Noel Hazard. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales and Tribune / SEARCH Foundation

“On 26 January 1972 four Indigenous men set up a beach umbrella on the lawns opposite Parliament House in Canberra. Describing the umbrella as the Aboriginal Embassy, the men were protesting the McMahon government’s approach to Indigenous land rights.

The embassy operated in a few locations and took many forms before its permanent establishment on those same lawns in 1992.

The goals of protesters have also changed over time, and now include not only land rights but also Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination.”

National Museum Australia/ Defining Moments/ Aboriginal Tent Embassy

I feel eventually the best outcome is that an Aboriginal woman or man shall become Prime Minister in Australia as it happened in America when African American Barack Obama became US President that could never have happened without the campaigning of Martin Luther King decades before.

“We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King