The Struggle for Aboriginal Rights: A Documentary History

The Struggle for Aboriginal Rights: A Documentary History

The Struggle for Aboriginal Rights: A Documentary History

The Struggle for Aboriginal Rights: A Documentary History

Excerpt

Stories about the struggle for rights for Aborigines are well known in Aboriginal communities across Australia, being part of an oral tradition passed on one generation to the next. By comparison, other Australians know little of such histories. Many probably regard Aboriginal political activity as a very recent phenomenon— something that only emerged in the heady days of the 1960s and 1970s— and comprising events such as the 1967 referendum, whose significance they often misunderstand. Were they asked the names of notable Aboriginal leaders in the nineteenth century and the early and middle decades of the twentieth century they would be at a loss for an answer. This is a matter of the utmost importance for we will only be able to understand the Aboriginal politics of the last two or three decades if we are familiar with earlier protest by or on behalf of Aborigines. This will allow us to see both the continuities and the discontinuities in the struggle for rights for Aborigines over the last 150 and more years.

Until quite recently, historians had done little to combat this ignorance and instead had helped perpetuate the historical silence about the struggle for rights for Aborigines. Even in the late 1960s when historians began to write what we now call 'Aboriginal history', their concerns were eurocentric. They were preoccupied with understanding relations between Aborigines and Europeans in Australia from the perspectives of the newcomers or invaders. Their focus was upon frontiersmen, racial attitudes, government policy and practice and the destructive and often fatal impact of these forces on Aboriginal communities. Aboriginal viewpoints, let alone Aboriginal politics, were seldom found in these early historical studies. For example, a very useful and much used collection of historical sources compiled by Henry Reynolds in the early 1970s barely made any reference to the subject.

By the early 1980s, however, it was evident that historians had shifted their focus to a consideration of Aboriginal perspectives and . . .

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