Civil Rights Movement: Case Of Australia

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“The one word ‘Yes’ on May 27 will open the door for real reform. It will tell the world at large that there is only one Australian, and his colour doesn’t matter at all.” A quote from Faith Bandler, Regarding the 1967 referendum. Indigenous and Torres Strait islander people had begun taking a stand for civil rights from as early as 1938, however it wasn’t until the late 1950’s where Australians of all cultural backgrounds began coming together to campaign for equal rights for indigenous Australians. With some influence from the American civil rights movement, it is apparent that civil rights activism has been successful to quite a large extent in achieving change for aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples’ rights in Australia. Although, not all aspects of inequality between white and indigenous Australians have been completely fixed today.

A large amount of the successful demonstrations of civil rights activism in Australia were heavily influenced by events that occurred within the already successful American civil rights movement. From 1960, a chain of history making civil rights campaigns made up the American civil rights movement. Australian civil rights activists saw this empowering movement and became inspired to make a change for indigenous Australians rights and achieve a further sense of equality in Australia. In fact, some of Australia’s most successful displays of civil rights activism were influenced by many already successful campaigns used by African Americans in their movement. An example of this was the freedom ride campaigns. A freedom ride is a bus ride where a group travel around a country to bring light to a certain subject. The Australian freedom rides, led by Charlie Perkins in 1965, were used to bring further attention to how poorly indigenous and Torres Strait islander people lived under the Australian Constitution. This freedom ride was influenced by the originally successful American freedom rides that occurred in 1960, In which civil rights activists shed light on the unfair treatment and segregation of African Americans. Although these campaigns both had different motives, the prior success of the freedom rides in America helped to gain a large amount of positive publicity for the Australian freedom rides, therefore contributing to the campaign’s success. There were also many American individuals whose actions and words influenced the civil rights activists in Australia, one of these people were the famous Martin Luther King Jnr. King influenced individuals like Charlie Perkins and all that participated in the freedom rides to be peaceful protestors, gaining attention in a non-violent matter. This peacefulness led to the Australian freedom riders being looked upon positively by others, making them more likeable and easier to agree with. Hence, the campaign an overall success. Therefore, America’s influence on many Australian civil rights acts has contributed greatly to the success of achieving change for indigenous people in Australia, because without their influence, Individuals wouldn’t have held such successful events in Australia.

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Throughout this movement, Civil rights activists used different methods of protest to successfully achieve change for aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people. Australia adopted five key methods of protest from America’s civil rights activists. Peaceful protesting, working collectively with others, organised groups, bipartisan support and mass public demonstrations were the successful methods used in protesting by individuals. Faith Bandler AC was a woman whom, from the 1950’s, began involving herself in making a change for indigenous peoples’ rights. She achieved success to a large extent by using these methods through her work as a civil rights activist. Faith worked collectively to cofound the Australian Aboriginal fellowship in 1956. The work of this organization eventually led to the petition campaign to remove extracts from the Australian constitution that discriminated against Indigenous people. Faith began using the many methods of protest to gain support for this cause. She spent years organising public speaking opportunities to inform Australians of her cause, saying in 1965, “The time has come that Australia can no longer tolerate legal racial discrimination against its indigenous people.” Bandler also turned to organizing advertising to further endorse the campaign to the public. By working collectively with indigenous singers like Jimmy Little, who performed songs about voting ‘yes’ for aborigines and also participating in tv advertisements about the cause, Bandler quickly gained a bipartisan support for her campaign. Furthermore, Faith used the peaceful and non-violent mass demonstration of petition signing to achieve success. Faith and other civil rights activist came together to gain a large enough number of signatures in hope of successfully holding the much-needed referendum. Fortunately, after gaining 100,000 signatures over ten years of campaigning, the government decided to hold the referendum. Faith’s campaign had been extremely successful, and although her actions had not completely fixed all aspects of inequality towards indigenous people, her methods are an example of just how civil rights activists used a range of method to successfully campaign for change for Indigenous rights.

The 1967 referendum was an extremely significant event in successfully changing the rights of indigenous people and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia. After gaining enough signatures on whether the extracts excluding Indigenous people should or should not be removed from the Australian constitution. This was a very significant event to many Australians, for the constitution was an extremely important document that essentially set out the way that Australia functioned. The referendum was extremely significant due to achieving an historical outcome with the sum of “yes” votes adding up to 90.7%. The outcome of this referendum was significant due to the great changes in the constitution that came after it. Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders were finally included in the population and laws were now allowed to be made about them by the government. The 1967 Referendum was an extremely significant event for the civil rights, however, as successful as it was it did not completely fix the state of racism in our country. Nevertheless, the event was still Significant to a somewhat large extent due to the overwhelming success.

By looking at these many points, it is apparent that civil rights activism in Australia has been quite successful in achieving change for Indigenous people and Torres Strait Islanders rights to a large extent. With the large influence from America’s already successful movement, Strategic methods of campaigning from inspiring individuals and the overall success of the history making referendum, the aboriginal civil rights movement forever changed indigenous and Torres Strait islander peoples’ lives for the better. However, not all aspects regarding the equality between white people and indigenous were completely solved with the outcome of this event. With this in mind, I ask readers to question, what can you do today to further successfully achieve change for aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights in Australia?


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