What is the 1967 Referendum?

By Marco Delpopolo @just_marco23

National Reconciliation Week is held from the 27th of May to the 3rd of June each year to commemorate two significant dates in the reconciliation journey – and one of those dates belongs to the 1967 referendum.

In 1902 a Tasmanian member of Parliament, referring to Aboriginal people on whether they should be included in the national census, said: “there is no scientific evidence that he is a human being at all”.

It was in Australia’s Constitution that Aboriginal people were not to be counted in the census and that the Federal Government could not make new laws for peace, order, and good government for Aboriginal people.

This was until the 1967 referendum when two sections of the Australian Constitution were partially removed by vote, where over 90 per cent of Australians voted in favour.

The 1967 Referendum is seen by many as a breakthrough for Aboriginal people seeking equality in their own country but some also view it as irrelevant to their lives.

After doing some research on the 1967 Referendum, it dawned on me that I actually had no idea there was a 1967 Referendum prior to my research.

Most people know about the changes to the Commonwealth Electoral Act in 1962 which gave Indigenous people the right to vote in federal elections, but not many people know about the 1967 referendum and get the two confused.

Pro Poster for the 1967 referendum. Photo: FelixFarley/CC

I conducted a survey of 40 people and it was interesting to see that 50 per cent of people knew about the referendum but 55 per cent of the people did not learn about it at school and 100 per cent of people thought it should be taught in school.

As Reconciliation Week is coming to a close, one must think it is vital for non-Indigenous people to know our past to reconcile with the original owners of this land.

People must know that only a mere 50 years ago Indigenous people of this country were not counted in the census as they were deemed unworthy or not human enough.

The school curriculum is under review this year, as it does every six years, and already some changes are met with hesitancy – such as the Federal Minister for Education Alan Tudge about using the phrase ‘Invasion Day’ instead of ‘Australia Day’.

To draw a comparison, the Holocaust in Germany is taught in schools, every aspect of it is taught no matter how bad it makes Germany look, and in fact it is illegal to deny the Holocaust.

Here in Australia we have our Federal education minister squabbling over a simple name.

An overwhelming amount of people don’t learn enough about the hardships faced by the First Nations people in school and this must change if we want a brighter future.

The Australian school curriculum is now taking feedback on the proposed revisions and if you find you are fighting for change, here is your chance to have some input.

We as a nation must educate our people about our past. It is our duty, it is our responsibility – not because we are guilty, but because it is just.

Featured image: Sea of hands Sorry Day installation, Ultimo TAFE. Photo: Natalie Pozdeev

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