Warning: This resource may contain references to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may have passed away.

Australia in the 1930s

Indigenous peoples' struggles

In 1937, William Cooper, a leader of the Yorta Yorta people of northern Victoria, organised a petition to King George VI, asking for civil rights to be granted to Indigenous people and that there be an Indigenous member of parliament chosen by Indigenous people. The petition was signed by 1,814 people. The Australian Government refused to send the petition to the King.

In 1938, an Aboriginal deputation met the prime minister, Joseph Lyons. They were seeking among other things federal control of Aboriginal people's lives, which at the time lay with the states and territories.

In April 1938, the magazine The Abo Call was published by Aboriginal peoples. It advocated equality of treatment and opportunity. The magazine title today would be considered offensive and even at the time was considered by some to be derogatory.

Albert Namatjira outside Government House in Sydney

A snapshot of 1938

  • January
    • The first national conference of Indigenous Australians was held at the Australian Hall, Sydney, to mark a 'Day of Mourning' and protest during the 150th Australia Day anniversary of colonial settlement. The conference was initiated by William Cooper, founder of the Australian Aborigines League (AAL), and The Aborigines Progressive Association (APA), led by William Ferguson, and Jack Patten. Participants called for Aboriginal land and citizenship rights.

  • March
    • Xavier Herbert won the Commonwealth sesquicentennial (150 years) literary prize for his novel Capricornia.
    • Daisy Bates (1863-1951), a social worker in Aboriginal communities and an anthropologist, published her book The Passing of the Aborigines.
    • Many of Bates's views and stories were sensationalist and incorrect, and many Aboriginal people indicated ambivalence about her and her work.

  • July
    • All exports of iron ore from Australia to Japan were suspended as Japan was seen as militaristic.

  • December
    • The federal government announced that refugees from (Nazi) Germany were to be relocated in Australia.
    • A direct radio–telephone link was set up between Canberra and Washington as a sign of closer US–Australian government cooperation.
    • Albert Namatjira, an Indigenous artist, held his first exhibition of paintings in Melbourne. All 41 pieces sold within three days of the opening.


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