Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship

Linked with our presentation of Faith Bandler – Australia.

The Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship, and the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI), were both formed in 1957.

As general secretary of FCAATSI,Faith Bandler led the campaign for a constitutional referendum to remove discriminatory provisions from the Constitution of Australia. The campaign, which included several massive petitions and hundreds of public meetings arranged by Bandler, resulted in the 1967 referendum being put to the people by the Holt government.

The referendum succeeded in all six states, attracting nearly 91% support across the country, the highest amount of support for any referendum before or since. (Read more on wikipedia.

Excerpt: … It was only when the subject was being discussed in 1946 by some Ex-Servicemen just returned from Alice Springs (to echo this year’s National Reconciliation Week theme ‘Reconciliation: It’s Up To Us’) that I felt it was up to me as a writer to do something about that plight. That ’something’ was my first full-length play Here Under Heaven, which premiered in Melbourne in 1948, and later in Europe and elsewhere in Australia.

Ten years later, now married to Len Fox and encouraged by Len’s long-time friend Faith Bandler, we both joined the NSW Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship. That hyphen was all important in the name of the organisation, composed as it was of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people sharing responsibility for the organisation’s main aim of improving the conditions of NSW Aborigines whose lifestyle was governed by the NSW Protection Act, that in turn controlled the Aborigines Welfare Board. The more we heard about that largely oppressive Protection Act and listened to the Aboriginal people’s complaints about the Welfare Board’s neglect of Aboriginal welfare, the more we felt that a major campaign had to be waged to have this legislation abolished.

With the help of our 34 affiliated organisations, including 18 trade unions and 10 Aboriginal advancement bodies, and with increasingly sympathetic media coverage, this goal was eventually achieved. In 1962-3 the most discriminatory clause of the Act was repealed, and by the end of the decade the Act itself and the Board it controlled were no longer operative. Concurrently with the NSW campaign had been the major role played by the Fellowship in helping to achieve the now famous 1967 Commonwealth Constitution referendum victory. (Incidentally it was Len who designed the referendum’s still best known poster featuring a child’s face and the words: Right Wrongs, Write YES for Aborigines).

Active participation in these struggles provided a learning experience for everybody involved, and especially for those of us who had once regarded Aborigines as second-class citizens. We began discovering how meagre our knowledge had been about the conditions forced upon Indigenous people by the uninvited white settlement of 1788. They were miserable and often horrendous conditions about which we, as 20th century beneficiaries of that settlement, had good reason to feel guilty. These conditions are an enduring reason, I believe, for saying sorry, irrespective of any personal participation in the wrongdoing by ourselves or any of our own ancestors. And it was in Fellowship that we learnt that what had been called ‘the Aboriginal problem’ was really a white people’s problem. (Read the whole article by Mona Fox on Walking together).

Read also MS 727 Papers of Dame Mary Gilmore (1865-1962).

Read also recent acqisitions.

Read also The Long March for Justice.

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