1967 referendum

In 1967 the majority of Australians voted to change the Australian Constitution to count Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the national census. This video from the ABC’s Behind the News explores how the 1967 referendum was part of a movement for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following program contains images and voices of people who have died.

Duration: 4 min 4 sec

Transcript

Vision

Audio

Text: Viewer Advice. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program contains images of people who have died.

Narrator: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program contains images of people who have died.

Black and white footage of girls dancing on the street and crowds of girls lining a street, screaming.

Text: Reporter: Amelia Moseley

Narrator: The 1960s were a time for change.

Black and white footage of the Beatles posing for photographs.

Black and white footage of the moon landing.

Narrator: From pop culture to milestones in science.

Neil Armstrong: It’s one small step for man …

Black and white footage of a large group of people standing in front and on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.

Martin Luther King Jr speaking in front of the Lincoln Memorial and shots of the crowd reacting to his speech.

Narrator: And human rights movements.

Martin Luther King Jr: I have a dream that my 4 little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!

Black and white footage of Aboriginal people living in extreme poverty, with poor housing and an older woman carrying water. A woman sits on the ground washing clothes with children sitting behind her. A woman holds a baby in front of a corrugated iron hut

Narrator: Here in Australia people’s attitudes were also starting to change. For a long time Indigenous people didn’t have the same rights as other Australians. They faced a lot of discrimination and weren’t counted as citizens of their own country.

Black and white footage of a weatherboard school. A male Aboriginal teacher stands at the front of a classroom. Rows of Aboriginal students write on slate tablets.

Narrator: But many Indigenous and non-Indigenous Aussies realised things could and should be different.

A black and white photograph of a large group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and white Australian protesters in a city street. A banner reads ‘We have survived. We want our land’.

A large banner that reads ‘Australian Labor Party. VOTE in both squares. Yes, Yes. Absentee voting enquires here’.

Narrator: And they started demanding equality.

A sign that reads ‘More politicians NO. Aboriginal rights YES’.

Text: 1962

Black and white footage of well-dressed Aboriginal women in a crowd.

Black and white footage of an outdoor absentee polling place. The names of electorates hang from scaffolding and piles of papers are on tables. People are lining up and voting.

Narrator: In 1962 all Indigenous people were given the right to enroll to vote in federal elections like everyone else.

Text: 1965

Black and white footage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and white Australian protesters in a city street. Signs include ‘Hands off Gurindji land’ and ‘A black and white issue’.

Narrator: In 1965 Indigenous workers stood up against unfair working conditions and fought for land rights.

Black and white footage of young men attaching a large banner to the side of a bus. It reads ‘Student action for Aboriginals’.

Black and white footage of young boys running with a dog along an unpaved road. Woman and children stand by fences of weatherboard houses.

Narrator:  And in the same year, uni students protested against racism and poor living conditions around country NSW.

Black and white footage of 4 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, 2 men and 2 women, being interviewed on a TV show.

Black and white footage of two woman at a table covered in pamphlets on a footpath. Posters read ‘Vote yes for Aboriginal rights’.

TV interviewer: Mrs Bandler, how concerned are you as a NSW representative?

Narrator: Around this time activists had also set their sights on a really big goal that would involve the whole nation.  

A poster reads ‘Liberal Party vote Yes’.

A poster with the face of an Aboriginal baby reads ‘Right wrongs write Yes for Aborigines!’.

Narrator: They wanted to change sections of the country’s constitution which discriminated.

Black and white footage of an Aboriginal woman being interviewed on a TV show.

Faith Bandler: And I feel the time has come when Australia can no longer tolerate legal racial discrimination against its Indigenous people.

A young woman takes Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth by Quick and Garran from a row of old books in a library. She flips through the book as she is talking. 

A close up on Chapter VIII of the Australian Constitution, Alteration of the Constitution. 

Presenter: The Constitution is the most important legal document in the whole country. It sets out just how Australia works; so how the government is put together, how the courts work, how the states work and what the government can and can’t do. So changing it isn’t easy.

A map of Australia.

Text: Referendum

‘Yes’ and ‘No’ labels appear on the map of Australia.

Narrator: To change the Constitution there has to be a referendum. That’s where everyone over 18 votes yes or no to the changes.

A montage of black and white footage of groups of people protesting and giving speeches. Protest signs include ‘Civil rights for Aborigines here now’ and ‘Equal wages and conditions for Aborigines’.

A montage of black and white footage of people signing a petition and people standing around tables covered in papers.

Narrator: To get the government to even hold that referendum, campaigners set out to signatures on a petition. They set up tables in the streets of all capital cities and country towns, and even waited outside the gates of footy matches and churches. Eventually, they collected 100 000 signatures.

Black and white footage of a referendum ballot paper.

Narrator: And after 10 years of campaigning they finally got their vote.

Black and white footage of 2 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men discussing a ballot and then placing it in the ballot box.

Black and white footage of people lining up to receive their ballot paper and placing their ballots in the ballot box.

A poster with the face of an Aboriginal baby reads ‘Right wrongs write Yes for Aborigines!’.

An Asian woman is handed a how to vote card.

Narrator: On May 27 1967, Australians went to the polls. In the end, 90 per cent voted yes to changing the Constitution. It was the biggest yes vote in our nation’s history.

An animation of a large book opening.

Text: Constitution Section 127. In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, [in red] aboriginal natives shall not be counted.

Narrator: The changes meant 2 lines were removed from the document giving Indigenous people the right to be included in Australia’s population figures,

Text: Constitution Section 51. The people of any race, [in red] other than the aboriginal race in any State, [in black] for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws.

Narrator: and giving the federal Government the right to make laws for Indigenous Australians.

Four Torres Strait Islander men, including Eddie Mabo, walk down a street.

An aerial view of the main courtroom of the High Court of Australia.

A still photograph of Eddie Mabo.

A montage of footage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders celebrating successful land right claims.

Narrator: That last one later paved the way for things like the Land Rights Act, which has given many Indigenous Aussies traditional ownership of their land again.

A montage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and white Australians march along city and country streets holding signs that read ‘I support/R/Reconciliation’. Some marches are led by Aboriginal dancers in traditional dress.

An Aboriginal preschooler plays at a table.

Narrator: Fifty years on, there are still problems that need to be solved. And for many years people have been pushing to change Australia’s Constitution again because it doesn’t recognise Indigenous Australians as the nation’s first people and it still lets governments make laws that discriminate based on race.

Black and white footage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and white Australians clapping and celebrating by holding up drinking glasses.

The front of Parliament House in Canberra with Warlpiri artist Michael Nelson Jagamara’s Possum and Wallaby Dreaming mosaic in the foreground.

Narrator: But the 1967 referendum is still seen as a milestone in our country’s history; that brought Australians together and changed the nation for the better.