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Intro

Right Wrongs logo with the words '67 referendum - WA 50 years on

On 27 May 1967 a referendum was held in Australia that would prove to be significant for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and a watershed moment in Australian history. The 1967 Referendum was a vote put to the Australian people that asked two questions. The first is known as the ‘Nexus’ question and the second related to the alteration of discriminatory references toward Aboriginal people in the Constitution, enabling Aboriginal people to be counted in the census. In response to the second question the highest ‘Yes’ result was recorded in history, with 90.77 per cent of Australian voters in favour. 

To acknowledge this momentous occasion 50 years later, the Western Australian Department of Aboriginal Affairs’ Aboriginal History Research Unit has developed an information toolkit to provide a unique WA perspective of this event. To date much of the historical discourse surrounding the Referendum has centred on the Eastern States.  

This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the 1992 High Court Mabo Decision and the 20th anniversary of the 1997 Bringing Them Home Report, both milestones in the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights.

One of the fifty-four recommendations of the Bringing Them Home Report led to the expansion of the Aboriginal History Research Unit at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. It is important to note, however, there is still much more to do with regard to achieving real equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia. Some of these views are presented in the ‘Community Perspectives’ section of this toolkit.

Cultural disclaimer

The department acknowledges the Traditional Owners and custodians of this land. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, their descendants who are with us today, and those who will follow in their footsteps. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this document contains images and names of deceased persons. Readers are advised that this toolkit contains terminology and statements that reflect the original authors’ views and those of the period in which they were written, however may not be considered appropriate today. These attitudes do not reflect the views of the department, but provide an important historical context. Furthermore, the inclusion of the term ‘Aboriginal’ within this document is used to denote all people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent.

About the logo

The logo was designed collaboratively between Nyoongar artist, Jade Dolman, and Wadjula designer, Matthew McVeigh. This collaboration and design is reflective of the significance of the 1967 Referendum, a decision that progressed rights for Aboriginal people within the Commonwealth government system, the result of years or tireless campaigning by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. In the centre of the design is the symbol for beedawong (meeting place) surrounded by yonga bidi (kangaroo tracks). These tracks create the Commonwealth star within the negative space of the design. Surrounding this is the Aboriginal symbol for people.

Foreword

This year marks the 50-year anniversary of the historic 1967 Referendum. The Referendum was a pivotal point in modern history in Australia, as more than 90 per cent of Australians voted ‘Yes’ to count Aboriginal people in the same census as non-Aboriginal people, and to give the Commonwealth Government responsibility to make laws for Aboriginal people.

Prior to the Referendum, Aboriginal people did not share the same rights as non-Aboriginal Australians. The Referendum highlighted these inequalities, resulting in the highest ever ‘Yes’ vote recorded for a referendum.

For those who are older than me, memories of this event linger on.

Since this time, we, the Aboriginal people of this State, have become a critical voice in determining our future at a local, state and national level. But there are many challenges ahead.

It is important that all Western Australians gain a better understanding of our shared history. This Right Wrongs toolkit has been developed for this very purpose;to assist educators to foster an increased awareness and understanding amongst themselves, their students and the wider community.

This toolkit highlights some of the struggles endured by Aboriginal people in Western Australia, in their attempt to achieve equality. For the first time, the 1967 Referendum, the 1992 Mabo Decision, and the 1997 Bringing Them Home Report have been told from a uniquely Western Australian perspective.

I would like to acknowledge the efforts of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, in particular the Aboriginal History Research Unit, for undertaking the work that has led to this historical publication, and to the many community members who contributed by sharing their experiences.

Hon Ben Wyatt MLA
Minister for Aboriginal Affairs

Page reviewed 25 June 2019