Recognise campaign: 1967 poll led way for Indigenous equality

BATTLE FOR RECOGNITION: NSW Aboriginal Affairs Minister Leslie Williams, Uncle Stevie Widders and Recognise co-director Tim Gartrell.
Photo: STEVE GOSCH 0401sgrecognise2

BATTLE FOR RECOGNITION: NSW Aboriginal Affairs Minister Leslie Williams, Uncle Stevie Widders and Recognise co-director Tim Gartrell. Photo: STEVE GOSCH 0401sgrecognise2

THOSE seeking equality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in the latest bid for constitutional change should take heart from the 1967 poll, according to pro-recognition campaigners.

About 40 people gathered at TAFE Western’s Winhanganha room yesterday to discuss constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as part of the Recognise campaign, which seeks to add Indigenous people to the constitution and eliminate race powers.

It was a homecoming for campaign co-director Tim Gartrell, who was born and raised in Orange before entering politics, and he said the campaign was particularly significant for Wiradjuri people because they were among the first to encounter European settlers after those in Sydney.

“It was complete disruption to the Wiradjuri way of living and it pretty quickly descended into violence, retributions, massacres and martial law,” he said.

“If [recognition] could have been done by legislation, it would have been done years ago because there’s constructive support across politics, but politicians can’t change the constitution without a referendum.”

Elder Stevie Widders said much progress had been made since the 1967 referendum where 90 per cent of Australians voted to allow governments to make laws applying to Indigenous people and remove a clause stating Indigenous people should not be counted as part of the population.

“The government listened and Gough Whitlam changed it with medical services and legal services, housing, education - all that happened because people said, ‘we want change’,” he said.

Member for Orange Andrew Gee spoke about the stories Wellington elders had shared with him, including mothers being turned away from hospitals to give birth.

“They discouraged their kids from speaking Wiradjuri at school, because if they did, they would be removed and they used to make sure at least one kid knew the language so they could pass it on,” he said.

“It happened not long ago, but they weren’t bogged down in bitterness and anger ... they’re looking to make life better for their communities.

“We’ve made great strides, but it’s not complete yet.”

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