Indigenous Australian Land Rights

By Georgia Chamberlayne

Please be aware that this flyer may contain pictures of deceased Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders

'The pursuit of Indigenous Land Rights was 100% successful and fully supported by the Australian population.'

From the information provided, it is found that the pursuit of Indigenous Land Rights was not 100% successful as it was not not fully supported by the Australian Population. It is evident from the results from the referendum that a couple of states did not support the change in constitution and the fact that there have been so many protests regarding land rights has shown that it has not been 100% successful.

Background Information

Indigenous Australian's have tried since 1846 to attempt to regain their land in which the British 'overran' in 1788 (National Museum Australia, 2007). Land Rights are important to the Indigenous population as for 60,000 years before the British settlers came to Australia, the Indigenous population believed the land to be 'sacred' and that they had a 'duty to look after it' (Addison.P, 2013). This was taken from them when the British landed and they took away their freedom to roam the land as they were doing beforehand (Addison.P,2013).

A Timeline describing the Pursuit of the Indigenous Land Rights from the 1960's

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(Addison.P, 2013)

Key Figure in the Pursuit of Indigenous Land Rights:

Whitlam Government- Prime Minister from 1973-1975

The Whitlam Government was a time for change when they came into power in 1972 for three years, using the powers that the change in constitution allowed for Indigenous communities (,n.d.). The government made the policy of self-determination which allowed Indigenous communities to have 'more say in their affairs and more input into the laws and policies that affected them' (Addison.P,2013). Also, they increased the amount of spending on the Indigenous communities, rising from $23 million to $145 million, helping with more education and health issues (,n.d.). The Gough Whitlam government established the Woodward Royal Commission which had the power of investigating Indigenous land right problems and changing them (,n.d.). Gough Whitlam was one of the first Prime Minsters to work with the Indigenous population to improve their living standards.

Eddie Mabo

Mabo was born in 1936 on Mer Island in the Torres Strait Islands (Addison.P,2013). While working as a gardener on the grounds of the University in Townsville, Mabo sat in on classes and read books from the library (Addison.P,2013). During his time there, he spoke to a couple of academics and learnt that his home, Mer Island was Crown land though he believed that it belonged to his people (Addison.P,2013). This encouraged Mabo to 'research the law and challenge the notion of terra nulls (Addison.P,2013). Crowned land is considered as public land which belongs to the government (The Free Dictionary, n.d.). In 1981, at a 'Lands Rights Conference, Mabo spoke about Crown ownership, disagreeing with the idea od it (Addison.P,2013). A lawyer there suggested for Mabo to go to the High Court to 'speak against the idea of Crown ownership' (Addison.P,2013). In 1982, once he attended the HIgh Court, they dismissed his case, stating that he could not 'claim inheritance' due to the fact the his uncle owned the land instead of his parents (Addison.P,2013).

Faith Bandler

Bandler was born in New South Wales in 1919 and was influenced by her father's experiences to become a activist (National Museum Australia,n.d.). From 1956 for 13 years, Bandler worked at the Aboriginal- Australian Fellowship (National Museum Australia,n.d.). Bandler also worked as secretary of the Federal Council for Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders from 1963 (National Museum Australia,n.d.). After the Government 'had agreed to hold a referendum on the Aboriginal question' in 1967, Bandler worked as campaign director of New South Wales (National Museum Australia,n.d.). Her goal in these campaigns were for the Aboriginal Australians to be 'accepted as equals, and as 'one people' with White Australians' (National Museum Australia, n.d.). However, this become not as supported once she introduced the idea of 'Indigenous Australians strive to assert their right to cultural difference' (National Museum Australia, n.d.). After the Referendum, from 1970 Bandler worked as the General Secretary of the Federal Council for Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) (National Museum Australia,n.d.).

Charles Perkins

Born in 1936, Perkins become a professional soccer player, playing in 1957 in England (Addison.P,2013). Two years later, he moved back to Australia and attended the University of Sydney in 1963, where only one other Indigenous Australian attended (Addison.P,2013)). While there, he formed the Student Action for Aborigines which organised a 'bus tour of western New South Wales towns...exposing discrimination' throughout the towns (National Museum Australia, n.d.). After graduating, in 1965, Perkins 'became the manager of the Foundation of Aboriginal Affairs in Sydney' and moved to Canberra to work 'in the Office of Aboriginal Affairs' in 1969 (National Museum Australia,n.d.). Perkins accepted a job with the Commonwealth Public Service and was the 'first Aboriginal Australian to be made head of a government department' in 1981 after becoming Secretary of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (Addison.P,2013). However, in 1988, Perkins was 'dismissed over a dispute with the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs' (Addison.P,2013).

Key Events in the Pursuit of Indigenous Land Rights

Lake Tyers 1962-71

After years of protesting, the Lake Tyers reserve located in Victoria was given back to the local Indigenous people in 1971 (Reconciliation,2009). This was the first land in which 'ownership of a reserve had been given to its Indigenous Residents (Reconciliation,2009).

Vincent Lingiari -Wave Hill 'Walk off'

Born in 1919, Vincent Lingiari grew up working on Wave Hill station without any pay (Indigenous Australia, n.d.). 1953 was the first time in which Lingiari received any money, at the Negri River Races when he was given 5 pounds (Indigenous Australia,n.d.). On the 23rd of August, 1966, the employees of Wave Hill station 'walked-off' as they were being 'treated like dogs' (Indigenous Australia,n.d.). Lingiari asked for their families to be better protected and for pay and better rations (Indigenous Australia,n.d.). This strike lasted for nine years and was held on the Victoria River and was then moved to Daguragu (Wattie Creek). The following year, Lingiari and his people petitioned for the return of their land so 'they could establish their own cattle station' (Indigenous Australia,n.d.). With the change of government in 1973, Whilam arranged to lease 3236 squared kilometres of the station to the Gurindji people. This transfer of land was completed when on the 16th August 1975, Whilam 'poured a handful of red soil into Lingiari's hand' (Indigenous Australia,n.d.).

State Land Rights Act

The Aboriginal Land RIghts Act (Northern Territory) 1976 was implemented to be able to give land to the Indigenous population. This Act was the first step in other States gaining similar legislation (, n.d.). South Australia passed an act in 1981, allowing Indigenous people to own their own land and gave them the 'right to claim royalties from the mining companies' (,n.d.). This act allowed 'more than ten percent of South Australian's land to be returned to the local Indigenous people' (,n.d.). In the following years, New South Wales and Queensland adopted their own acts allowing Indigenous people to take ownership of land (,n.d.). However, in Western Australia and Tasmania, 'legislation was never passed' (,n.d.). The National Government never pursued passing a national Land Rights Act as the 'opinion polls at the time showed that many white Australians were against land rights', also indicating that the pursuit of land rights was not 100% successful (,n.d.).


In 1985, Uluru was given back to Indigenous owners and 'become an important symbol in the development of co-operative relations' between the white Australians and the Indigenous Australian's (Australian Museum,2009).

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The Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI)

The FCAATSI held annual meetings in Adelaide, South Australia from 1958-1978 with the aim of working for 'equal citizenship rights' for Indigenous and Torres Strait Islanders (National Museum Australia,n.d). This council protested for the change of Australian Constitution, which lead to the 1967 referendum, legislating to acknowledge the Indigenous Australian's as a group of Australian's (National Museum Australia, n.d). Other campaigns in which the FCAATSI conducted was for land rights and for equal wages (National Museum Australia,n.d.). During the 1960's this group campaigned for the return of several areas of land and won (ReconiliactionNetwork,2007).

Woodward Royal Commission

This organisation had the aim of 'providing justice to those who had lost their lands' and to 'promote harmony and stability' with local communities (Addison.P,2013). This was accomplished by 'preserving and strengthening existing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander interests in rights over land' and 'providing basic compensation' for the people who were 'deprived of the rights and interests' that they would have had if they were to inherit the land in which they were supposed to (Addison.P,2013).

Student Action for Aborigines (SAFA)

As stated above, this organisation was formed by Charles Perkins and had the goal to 'draw public attention to the problem in health, education and housing' in Indigenous Australian communities (Addison.P,2013). On the 12th of February 1965, 33 students from the University of Sydney journeyed to towns in Northern and North-Western New South Wales for two weeks to explore the conditions of the Indigenous Australians there (Addison.P,2013). They found that there was segregation between the Indigenous Australians and the White Australians (Addison.P,2013). This trip gave the country 'national and international press coverage' as a reporter was on the journey as well (Addison.P,2013). On this trip, the students 'experienced some hostility and violence', suggesting that it was not fully supported (Addison.P,2013).

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Political Achievements

Aboriginal Tent Embassy 1972

The Aboriginal Tent Embassy was created on the lawns of the now Old Parliament House on the 26th of January 1972 (Australian Museum,2009). To symbolise that they were feeling foreign in their own country, the Indigenous people called it an 'embassy' (Australian Museum,2009). This was a protest, that the the government 'could not run away from' focusing on the campaigns for land rights and social justice. This was also used as a place were people could meet to protest together (Australian Museum,2009). The Tent Embassy stayed until 1975 were it was negotiated to be removed (Australian Museum,2009).

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1967 Referendum

Before the referendum, the federal government could not interfere with the laws that State Governments introduced for the Indigenous Australians as in 1901, when the constitution was drawn up, they was no power given to the federal government for this issue (Addison.P,2013). This change in constitution, when the referendum was passed in 1967 therefore allowed the Federal Government to make up their own laws regarding the Indigenous people (Addison.P,2013). For the constitution to change, the majority of the votes had to be a 'yes', agreeing to the change. This was achieved and the Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people considered this as a huge victory were many 'recognised their worth and place in Australian society' (Addison.P,2013).

Below shows the States and what the majority of the votes were for the allocated issues.

Located from (Addison.P, 2013).

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Native Title Act

The Native Land Act was introduced on the 1st of January 1994, allowing Indigenous people to claim ownership of vacant lands owned by the government (Addison.P 2013). However, this act was not clearly defined as many issues arsied were the people were worried that their land was going to be taken for public works or development (Addison.P, 2013). Many White Australians were not happy with this act as they were living and working side by side with Indigenous Australians, suggesting that it was not fully supported.

Bibliography (Including Pictures):

Addison. P,,2013,Pearson History, Pearson Australia, Melbourne, Victoria.

Central Land Council, n.d. History of the Land Rights Act, Central Land Council, accessed 8 September 2013, <>.

Charles Perkins, n.d., National Museum Australia, accessed 13 September 2013, <>.

Faith Bandler, n.d. National Museum Australia, accessed 10 September 2013, <>.

Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI), n.d. National Museum Australia, accessed 10 September 2013, <>.

Land Rights from the 1970's, n.d., accessed 10 September 2013, <>.

Land, C 2009 Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (1958 - c. 1978), The Australian Women's Register, accessed 14 September 2013, <>.

Lingiari, Vincent (1919-1988), n.d. Indigenous Australia, accessed 10 September 2013, <>.

National Museum Australia, 2007 Supporters of Aboriginal Embassy, Unknown, accessed 8 September 2013, <>.

New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, n.d. About NSWALC, Unknown, accessed 8 September 2013, <>.

Reconciliaction Network, 2007 Land Rights Fact Sheet, NSW, accessed 8 September 2013, <>.

Reconciliation Australia, 2009 Aboriginal Land Rights Q&A, Federal Government Australia, accessed 8 September 2013, <>.

Supporters of the Aboriginal Embassy, n.d. Museum Australia, accessed 10 September 2013, <>.

The Free Dictionary, n.d. Crown land, Farlex, accessed 14 September 2013, <>.

The Land, 2009 Australian Museum, accessed 8 September 2013, <>.

The Whitlam Government & Land Rights, n.d. NFSA, accessed 10 September 2013, <>.