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Bruce McGuinness

(1939 to 2003)

Bruce McGuinness

Source: Smoke Signals, September 1970

In the late 1960s, when the issue of Indigenous control of organisations was being debated, Bruce McGuinness played a leading role both in Victoria and nationally.

Bruce became politically active as a young man when he became secretary of the youth branch of the Australian Aborigines' League. He later became president of that body, which then became the Aboriginal branch of the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League.

Bruce was responsible for the first Aboriginal-initiated national news-sheet, National Koorier. An effective speaker, he put the case persuasively for Aboriginal people taking control of their own affairs. Impressed by the ideas of Roosevelt Brown, McGuinness invited the Caribbean Black Power activist to visit the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League in 1969. He and other younger Indigenous activists began to see the Aboriginal struggle as a part of a broader struggle against colonialism and white power.

Bruce McGuinness was the Victorian State Director of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) in 1969. He argued for Indigenous control of that organisation at the 1970 annual conference and, when that failed, he left to join the National Tribal Council, asserting the importance of pride in identity.

He went on to make further contributions: he was Director of the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League, and was involved in setting up the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service and was the co-founder of the National Aboriginal and Islander Health Organisation. Early in 2003, not long before his death, Tranby College awarded Bruce an honorary doctorate in recognition of his lifelong work for the Aboriginal community.

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