The Institute Times

1970 - First Aboriginal Legal Service established in Redfern, NSW

1971 - Senator Neville Bonner appointed to the AIAS Council

Neville Bonner, the first Aboriginal person to sit in the Commonwealth Parliament.
Courtesy of the National Archives of Australia (A6180, 18/12/79/7).

Neville Bonner became the first Aboriginal person to sit in the Commonwealth Parliament when he was chosen to fill a vacancy in the Senate caused by the resignation of a Liberal senator for Queensland.

Neville Bonner was born on Ukerebagh Island on the Tweed River, New South Wales, in 1922. Like many Indigenous children of his age he had little formal schooling, leaving after he had attained the third grade at the age of fifteen. He worked as a rural labourer on properties across Queensland until 1946, when he commenced employment at the Palm Island Aboriginal settlement. He rose to the position of assistant settlement overseer on Palm Island.

In 1960 Bonner moved to Ipswich where he became associated with the One People Australia League (OPAL), a moderate Aboriginal rights organisation. He served as one of the league’s directors for several years and was the Queensland president in 1970. Following the 1967 referendum, Bonner joined the Liberal Party.

Source: Neville Bonner – Fact sheet 231

1971 - Publication of Yiwara, Foragers of the Australian Desert

Yiwara: Foragers of the Australian Desert by Richard A. Gould.
Courtesy of Richard A. Gould

In the early years much of the Institute’s research and many of the films that were produced focused on secret-sacred ceremonies. AIAS considered the recording of secret-sacred rituals to be an important part of its work. The Institute, which was enthusiastic about revitalising and filming secret-sacred ceremonies, encouraged communities to hold them.

In the late 1960s, Dr Richard Gould, a highly respected scholar from the American Museum of Natural History in New York and a leading light in the New Archaeology Movement, visited Australia to conduct ethnographic research with Aboriginal people from the Laverton-Warburton Ranges region of Western Australia. His research included a study of their rock art, ritual, sacred sites and archaeology. Though he had independent funding, AIAS provided funds for the hire of a vehicle.

Gould’s research resulted in the publication of Yiwara, Foragers of the Australian Desert, a book written for popular appeal rather than for specialists. The book contained eleven photographs of secret-sacred ceremonies and objects with explanatory texts.

An Aboriginal high school student from the Laverton community in WA, who was studying in Perth, found the book and took it from the school library. Her father discovered the book and complained about the book to a Native Welfare Department officer. Other members of the community became aware of the book and a welfare officer sent a telegram to his senior administrator, advising:

"Warburton Aborigines very upset and angry re Gould's book Yiwara ... Elders adamant no further cooperation with anthropologists.

The banning of researchers by the Western Desert people for publishing secret-sacred photographs received national media attention including a front-page article in the Sunday Australian and a report in the Sydney newspaper, Daily Mirror.

The Daily Mirror Report, 1971

Moves were underway in July to have a book containing photographs of Aboriginal tribal rites which were offensive to some aborigines in the eastern goldfields of Western Australia withdrawn from school libraries. The book, Yiwara, Foragers of the Australian Desert, was written by an American anthropologist after he had spent some time studying Aborigines in the Warburton Range and the Gibson Desert about four years ago.

Tribes in the Laverton area were reported to be angry with an aboriginal schoolgirl who brought the book home during the school holidays. The book contained photographs of a ceremony and objects of aboriginal custom forbidden to the sight of women and children.

The girl who had the book has not since been seen at school and it was rumoured that she could be punished according to tribal law. Commenting on this case and similar things, a spokesman from the Native Welfare Department said that he believed there was a growing reluctance among aborigines in the eastern goldfields to be studied or photographed at all.

They were becoming resentful of the fact that people were regarding them as rarities. Recently some Warburton aborigines had refused to pose for a missionary group. When they finally agreed, they insisted that only the best dressed ones amongst them be photographed. That’s pride. And jolly good luck to them!

This event shook the institute’s complacency when it came to access by researchers to Aboriginal communities.

Source: The Daily Mirror.

1971 - The Aboriginal flag is flown for the first time on National Aborigines Day in Victoria Square in Adelaide

The flag was designed by Aboriginal artist, Harold Thomas of the Luritja people of central Australia.

1971 - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people included in Australia’s census count for the first time

Between Federation in 1901 and 1967, section 127 of the Australian Constitution stated that:

“in reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth ... Aboriginal natives shall not be counted”.

During the lead up to the first national Census in 1911, the Commonwealth Attorney-General stated that persons of half or less Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent should be included in the population figures.

Based on this advice, all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people encountered were asked to complete the Census form, including a question on race, and the proportion of their Aboriginal heritage. If people stated that they were more than ‘half Aboriginal’ in heritage they were excluded from published Census results.

The history of counting Torres Strait Islander people differed from that of the Aboriginal population. Prior to the 1947 Census, Torres Strait Islander people were regarded as ‘aboriginal natives’, and were excluded from population figures if they were of more than 50% Torres Strait Islander heritage.

As the Australian Constitution did not specifically identify Torres Strait Islanders for exclusion, during the 1930s and 1940s, the Queensland Government lobbied for their inclusion and from 1947 onwards Torres Strait Islander people were included in the official population figures. They were classified as Polynesians in the 1947 Census and then as Pacific Islanders in the 1954 and 1961 Censuses.

The 1960s marked the beginning of an era that saw many social changes in Australia and the successful 1967 Constitutional Referendum meant that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be counted in the Census.

What is the Census?

Since 1911, a census of Australia’s population is taken every five years and is a national source of statistical information.
Source: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and the Census after the 1967 Referendum

1971 - First litigation on native title

The Yolngu people from Gove Peninsula, East Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory undertook the first litigation on native title in Australia to the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory

This case became known as the Gove land rights case. The Yolngu claimants, representing 11 clans, challenged an agreement between the Commonwealth of Australia and the Nabalco Corporation on a bauxite mining lease.

The Yolngu people claimed they enjoyed legal and sovereign rights over their land and the right to occupy their land free from interference pursuant to their native title rights. They argued Nabalco did not have their approval to mine on their lands.

Justice Blackburn of the Supreme Court rejected the claim by the Yolngu, though he recognised that Aboriginal customary law was recognisably a system of law, he held that native title was not part of the law of Australia.