THE ABORIGINAL EXPERIENCE - STRUGGLES FOR RIGHTS AND FREEDOM
_"THROUGHOUT THE SECOND HALF OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY MANY ABORIGINAL PEOPLE HAVE EXPERIENCED STRUGGLES FOR RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS."_
The struggle for Aboriginal and Islander Land Rights is the longest-running political conflict in Australia's history. The issue of Aboriginal land rights in Australia has existed for over 200 years, and the process still has some way to go. Why is land so important to Aboriginal people's history and beliefs? They have maintained their fight for land justice against the odds, and despite a history of continued dispossession and alienation from land. Some significant areas of land and social rights have now been achieved.
It wasn't until the passing of the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 and the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 that Indigenous people were not included as citizens of Australia, and could therefore not vote. When white Australia celebrated 150 years of settlement on January 26 1938, Aboriginal people in Sydney marked it as a Day of Mourning. They_ _stated that there was little for Aboriginal people to celebrate, and mocked the claims of white Australians to be a "civilised, progressive, kindly and humane nation".
During 1900-1950's, hardships for Aboriginals continued and their push for equal rights and freedom were meaningless to the government. This was shown with the government policy to take Aboriginal children from their families and place them in missions. Once there they would be given new identities and live in a harsh environment where they would be made to live in a 'White mans way' and forget their past culture. This would later be known as the Stolen Generation.
The 1960s saw a lot of change; but most Aboriginal people in the early twenty-first century might argue that the changes have not achieved enough nor come quickly enough, to improve the position of Aboriginal people within Australian society today. The demand for justice and equality by Australia's Indigenous people has been a long hard struggle.
In 1965, Freedom Rides were revolutionary. Indigenous and non-Indigenous students from the University of Sydney drove around in a bus to country towns of New South Wales to protest against segregation and living conditions of Aboriginal people. They were very successful in getting media attention, both international and nation, which lead to mass scrutiny of Australia's Aboriginal affairs. The publicity generated by the freedom ride persuaded many Australians to vote for constitutional change in the 1967 referendum.
1966 saw the Wave Hill strike about the exploitation of Gurindji people. Vincent Lingiari stated:
_"The issue on which we are protesting is neither purely economic nor political but moral; on August, 1966 the Gurindji tribe decided to cease to live like dogs"._
By camping on their traditional land at Wattie Creek the Gurindji were defying the law. This strike developed into a land claim at Daguragu. Gough Whitlam symbolically handed back their land in 1975 when he poured the dirt into Lingiari's hand. This action is regarded as the beginning of the land rights movement.
These events all contributed to the federal referendum conducted in 1967 to determine whether Aboriginal people should be included in the national census and whether the Commonwealth Government should be given the power to make laws for Aboriginal people. The referendum was approved by 90.77% of the population, the largest yes vote of all referendums.
The Referendum was a fantastic win for the Aboriginal movement - the movement for equality. This win gave citizenship, which meant Aboriginal people were able to move around freely, have a choice in governments and finally have policies made by the Commonwealth government. Having the Council of Aboriginal Affairs meant Aboriginals had a political voice foe the first time and some influence over the policies that governed them.
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