Australia in the 1960s

Recognising the rights of Indigenous Australians

In 1960, the Department of Native Affairs in Western Australia issued a directive to cease removing Aboriginal children from their parents to be placed on mission stations for education.

In 1961, North Queensland activists were instrumental in instigating the first public inquiry into 'floggings'; an aspect of the management regime on the state-run Hope Vale reserve.

In 1962, the Commonwealth Electoral Act was amended to allow Indigenous Australians the right to enrol and to vote in federal elections. Some states were reluctant to enforce this ruling and delayed providing the same rights for state and local elections.

On 12 February 1965, activist Charles Perkins led the famous Freedom Ride bus trip with a group of Sydney University students to publicise the segregation of and discrimination against Indigenous Australians in NSW.

In 1966, Vincent Lingiari led approximately 200 Gurindji stockmen, women and children off Wave Hill cattle station in protest against intolerable working conditions and poor wages. They established a camp at Wattie Creek and began a nine-year struggle, which developed into a successful claim for the return of traditional Gurindji lands.

In May 1967, 90.8 per cent of Australian voters chose 'Yes' in a national referendum that proposed, firstly, to make laws apply to all Australians and not exclude Indigenous peoples, and secondly, to include Indigenous peoples in census counts. This occurred after a decade-long campaign to remove discriminatory provisions from the Constitution of Australia, including several massive petitions and hundreds of public meetings campaigning for Indigenous Australians.

A snapshot of 1968

  • January
    • Senator John Gorton becomes prime minister after the disappearance of Harold Holt, presumed drowned off Portsea, Victoria.
    • The Tet Offensive is launched during the Vietnam War. North Vietnamese troops attempt to take significant South Vietnamese strongholds in the one offensive action.

  • February
    • The Draft Resistance Movement is formed. They declare that the group not only opposes conscription, but intends to destroy it.
    • WC Wentworth is appointed the first minister for Aboriginal Affairs, although he has no department under his control.

  • May
    • A mineral investment boom begins on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX).
    • The Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi visits Australia.

  • December
    • The breathalyser test for drink-driving is introduced in NSW.


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