Transcript: Dr Tom Calma

Video length: 7 minutes

Speaker: Dr Tom Calma AO, University of Canberra Chancellor

Then by the time we came in to the 70s, we started to see a far greater movement across the nation and it was starting to trickle down in to Darwin where we saw places like Retta Dixon Home, which was part of where our children, our Stolen Generation’s children, were accommodated and supposedly looked after by the State. Well we started to see the breakup of institutions like that and the Kahlin Compound before then as a great awareness came across the nation that it wasn’t good enough to incarcerate or to take care of our children by the State. We had to redress a whole range of issues where we were over generations, successively taken away from our people, from our culture, from our land. We weren’t allowed to express ourselves as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

But that was all starting to change in the early 70s and that’s where we started to get a better understanding of human rights and so we then start to look at the big reforms that came. The 1975 Racial Discrimination Act, which was phenomenal. For the first time in Australia we had domestic legislation that said that, you know, you couldn’t discriminate based on race, which was really an expression, a domestic expression of the international covenant on the eradication of all forms of discrimination. So they were, you know, the sort of big reforms. We saw the election of the Whitlam Government and at the time, the Labor Government that was then recognising Aboriginal people a lot more, following on from the ’67 referendum.

But also recognising our relationship with land which was important. Instead of being taken away from the land, we suddenly recognized and so we saw the very famous handing over, you know, of the sand to Vincent Lingiari by the Prime Minister of the day, Gough Whitlam and you know, great movement. And we saw the emergence, in 1976, in the lead up to 1976, Aboriginal Land Rights Act, Northern Territory, which is Commonwealth legislation which gave recognition and authority to Aboriginal-Torres Strait Islander people to formally lodge claims for our land, to be recognised. It was very important because that coincided with a period when a lot of our older people were also passing on and so, you know, we’ve got a situation where we’ve been taken off our land, taken away from our culture, institutionalised. To suddenly go back, which is also happening at the same time as reforms like the Land Rights Act, you’re getting reforms like the Racial Discrimination Act coming in. So they were very important in the general movement and of course we had that, in Canberra, the great events that are associated with the Tent Embassy, in the early 70s, which are important in terms of raising awareness.

So there’s no single event that raised awareness but there are a whole lot of things all happening around about the same time and you know, with the ’67 Referendum where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and particularly Aboriginal people, were able to get that recognition, to know that it was a bit safer to recognise that you were an Aboriginal person or of Aboriginal descent. To know that if you did say that, it didn’t mean being excluded from employment, from education, from access to good health services and so forth. It then meant that you could start to apply to the Government for homes and accommodation and to live like all other citizens in Australia, we were able to live as equals and that was just the start of the process. It’s still a work in progress in my view and we still haven’t got equality in health, we haven’t got equality in outcomes of education and employment.

So we’re a long way behind, you know, in those equality issues that are very much related to human rights.