About this site
Collaborating for Indigenous Rights website explores the campaigns waged in postwar Australia to overturn discriminatory laws and expose racism. The years from 1957 to 1973 bridge an earlier society expressed in the Bulletin magazine's masthead slogan 'Australia for the White man' and a later society, marked by the election of a reformist Labor government which began to address this damaging legacy.
These campaigns are of two fundamentally different kinds:
- those for civil rights
- those for land rights
Campaigns to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians were treated as Australian citizens meant changing laws, challenging racist behaviour and holding a mirror up to society to expose the ugliness and injustice of people's rights being abrogated on racial grounds. These campaigns are explored in the strand 'The Fights for Civil Rights' which focuses on seven different campaigns.
The other main strand in this site, 'The Struggle for Land Rights', takes a case study approach to campaigns through the 1960s which argued, in legal, moral and economic terms, for Indigenous Australians' rights to their lands. Four sites of conflict are explored. Two additional sections on land rights campaigns and the Aboriginal Tent Embassy show the development of broadening community support for this idea.
The collaboration between black and white activists during these years was crucial to the campaigns which did succeed. A national grass-roots movement evolved, and while racial and political tensions were always present, the Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement (later the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, FCAATSI) is a unique phenomenon in the history of Australian race relations. Its work is one of the few examples of an Australia-wide body of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians functioning and achieving results as a national pressure group.
This project was the result of an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant awarded to Dr Sue Taffe at Monash University, Melbourne in 2004.The project was to create an exhibition and a website to inform the public about the struggle of Indigenous people to gain their rights as citizens in the mid twentieth century and the non-Indigenous activists who worked beside them in this struggle.
The industry partners to this project were the State Library of Victoria, the National Library of Australia, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and the National Museum of Australia. The National Museum created the travelling exhibition ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ based on Sue’s research. This website, ‘Collaborating for Indigenous Rights’ was developed by the National Museum of Australia and Sue Taffe from 2004 to 2007.
The People section of the site was updated in 2023.
The People section of this site recognises the importance of individuals who worked together on particular campaigns. Many of the Aboriginal and Islander people mentioned here dedicated their entire lives to working for their people. A good number of their white supporters also made 'the struggle for Aboriginal rights', as they often called it, central to their lives.
This was a people's movement and, while almost a hundred activists have been recognised here, there are many others still to be added. Some have deposited their papers in libraries; others have left trails that are more difficult to follow. We are grateful to the families of some of the people mentioned here for information provided.
We encourage the families of activists not yet on the site to contact the Museum if they would like a family member to be recognised.
The Organisations section shows the diverse bodies working in support of Aboriginal justice. This is not yet comprehensive. At its height FCAATSI had 68 organisations affiliated to it. This section illustrates the skilful planning, work and cooperation required in a national grass-roots movement before there were mobile phones, cheap air travel and government subsidies.
There is a Timeline of key events during this period. This movement for social change did not happen in isolation. Australia, while relatively isolated in the 1960s, was nevertheless influenced by events elsewhere in the world. For this reason key international events, especially relating to race politics, are included.
The Comments section is available for people to send us their memories of the period or to provide commentary and suggestions for additional content. Contact us
The National Museum of Australia provides teaching resources on the Australia's Defining Moments Digital Classroom website.