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”.

QCAATI float in the 1967 Brisbane May Day procession, 1 May 1967.Creator: Daisy Elizabeth Marchisotti. Courtesy of Fryer Library, University of Queensland.

QCAATI float in the 1967 Brisbane May Day procession, 1 May 1967.
Creator: Daisy Elizabeth Marchisotti. Courtesy of Fryer Library, University of Queensland.

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.

Children on the Builders Labourers’ Federation float, May Day procession, Brisbane, 1967.Creator: Grahame Garner.Courtesy of Fryer Library, University of Queensland.

Children on the Builders Labourers’ Federation float, May Day procession, Brisbane, 1967.
Creator: Grahame Garner.
Courtesy of Fryer Library, University of Queensland.

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:

Websites

Christina Ealing-Godbold, Research Librarian, Visitor & Information Services

Jennie Nicholl, Library Technician, Visitor & Information Services

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