1967 Referendum and Lambert McBride

The 1967 Referendum changed the Australian constitution, with the record breaking ‘yes’ vote to count Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the census for the first time. The referendum removed discriminatory clauses from the constitution of 1901, which stated that Indigenous peoples should be a state government responsibility. After the 1967 referendum Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders became eligible for the same social security payments already enjoyed by other Australians.

Lambert McBride's suitcase. Lambert McBride Collection. State Library of Queensland

This weathered red suitcase was used by Lambert McBride whilst campaigning for better conditions for Indigenous people throughout the 1960s.  Lambert McBride was the Queensland President of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI). His wife May was the Publicity Officer of the Queensland Branch of FCAATSI.

Lambert McBride's suitcase and papers on display as part of the 2017s Freedom Then, Freedom Now exhibition

7481 Lambert McBride Collection 1963-1997 held by State Library of Queensland also contains an assortment of papers, correspondence, reports, newsletters, periodicals and newspaper clippings relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander civil rights, the 1967 referendum and beyond.

One of the newspaper clippings that caught my eye was a letter to the editor written by Lambert himself a few days prior to the referendum and published under the headline, Aboriginal plea for a 'yes' vote. In the letter Lambert mentions the result of a straw poll conducted among 1,556 of "our white Australian friends" with 1,360 saying they would vote 'yes'; 23 voting 'no' and the rest undecided. 

"We are quite ready to accept full citizen rights and full citizen wages too," wrote Lambert, "but many of my people on cattle stations and in settlement have no opportunity to earn white man's wages and to live up to the white man's standards of living." He concluded the letter - "For all these reasons we want an overwhelming 'Yes' vote on Saturday". 

Selection of booklets from the Lambert McBride Collection. State Library of Queensland

A selection of assorted newsletters from the Lambert McBride collection. State Library of Queensland

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(Updated on 24 May 2021)

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