Towards Reconciliation: The 1967 Referendum and Mabo
National Reconciliation Week (27 May - 3 June) is a celebration and opportunity for Indigenous Australians and the wider Australian community to come together to share stories, history and culture, and explore how we can become unified as a nation. The theme for 2019 is “Grounded in Truth: Walk Together with Courage”.
Imagine being an Australian and being able to vote in one state and not in another. Imagine being able to marry freely and raise your own children in one jurisdiction but not in another.
In the second half of the 20th century, a changing mood in Australia influenced the thinking of legislators. In 1967 a significant referendum was held. The question asked in the referendum of 1967 was whether two references in the Constitution, which discriminated against Aboriginal people, should be removed.
The sections of the Constitution under scrutiny were:
51. The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:-...(xxvi) The people of any race, other than the aboriginal people in any State, for whom it is necessary to make special laws.
127. In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives should not be counted.
This referendum saw the highest YES vote ever recorded in a Federal referendum, with 90.77% voting for change. As a result, in 1967 the Constitution of Australia was changed, giving formal effect to the referendum result.
Related to this change was the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had been given the vote under Commonwealth law in 1962. In 1965, Queensland was the last State in Australia to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on the electoral roll.
Together with the Eddie Koiki Mabo Decision of 3 June 1992, these factors contributed to a move towards reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the wider Australian community. The Mabo Decision overturned the fiction of ‘terra nullius’ and empowered Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to seek native title and ownership of their lands.
The courage shown by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in talking about and sharing their cultural stories and history has led to a greater understanding and respect among the diverse groups in 21st century Australian society.
State Library of Queensland holds extensive resources, both online and in hard copy, that document the walk towards both reconciliation and the recognition of native title. In National Reconciliation Week, State Library celebrates the journey towards reconciliation and acknowledges the traditional owners of the land upon which State Library is located.
Some examples of State Library resources are:
- Reflections : 40 years on from the 1967 referendum Neil Gillespie. Available: State Library South Bank Collection. Request then collect from level 4 (J 323.11 REF).
- The 1967 referendum : race, power and the Australian Constitution / Bain Attwood and Andrew Markus. Available: State Library South Bank Collection. Open Access, level 2 (323.119915 2007).
- Reconciliation, take the next step : National Day of Healing and Reconciliation Week 26th May-3rd June 2005. Available: State Library South Bank Collection. Request then collect from level 4 (P 362.849915 REC).
- Mabo : an address to the nation / P.J. Keating. Available: State Library South Bank Collection. Request then collect from level 4 (VF 346.940432 KEA).
- 6837 Justice Moynihan - Determination re Mabo Case Papers. Three bound volumes regarding the determination of a reference from the High Court of Australia of the factual issues raised in the action by Eddie Mabo and others - prepared by Justice Moynihan. (No. B12 of 1982 in the High Court of Australia). Volume 1 (227pp), Volume 2 (58pp). Volume 3 (146pp). John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Australia.
- Transcript of proceedings ... in the High Court of Australia between Eddie Mabo, David Passi, James Rice ... and the State of Queensland. Proceedings for 28-31 May 1991, 3 June 1992, and 8 December 1992.
- OM95-26 Mabo Cutting Books 1990-1994 - (2 vols.) 23 Nov 1990-21 Oct 1994.
- 29122 Album of Photographs relating to the Mabo Case on Mer Island 1989. Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers should be aware that this album contains images and names of people who have since passed away.
- State Library Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Collections: /research-collections/aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-collections
- National Reconciliation Week: https://www.reconciliation.org.au/national-reconciliation-week/
- Reconciliation Resources Australia: https://www.reconciliation.org.au/resources/
- AIATSIS Reconciliation: http://lryb.aiatsis.gov.au/reconciliation.html
- Australians Together. Educational Resource for Teachers and Students: https://australianstogether.org.au/nrw/
- National Archives of Australia Fact Sheet 1967 Referendum: http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/fact-sheets/fs150.aspx
- AIATSIS Mabo: https://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/articles/mabo-case
- National Archives of Australia Fact Sheet on the Mabo case: http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/a-z/mabo.aspx
- National Museum of Australia Mabo decision: https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/mabo-decision
- National Library of Australia Mabo collection: https://www.nla.gov.au/selected-library-collections/mabo-collection
- Eddie Mabo, from Land Bilong Islanders. Courtesy of Trevor Graham-Yarra Bank Films: http://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/articles/mabo-case
- State Library of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages Webpage: www.slq.qld.gov.au/resources/atsi/languages
- State Library of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages Blog: /blog/ilq/
- State Library of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Participation in WW1 Webpage: /resources/world-war-1/indigenous-participation-in-war
Christina Ealing-Godbold, Research Librarian, Visitor & Information Services
Jennie Nicholl, Library Technician, Visitor & Information Services