Pastor Doug Nicholls leads Aboriginal people from Lake Tyers to Parliament House in Melbourne, 23 May 1963

Room 628

Pastor Doug Nicholls leads Aboriginal people from Lake Tyers to Parliament House in Melbourne

Pastor Doug Nicholls leads Aboriginal people from Lake Tyers to Parliament House in Melbourne, 23 May 1963
[L to R: Clive Stoneham, Eric Onus, Pastor Doug Nicholls, Joe McGinness and Laurie Moffatt]

23 May 1963

Photographic print

Source: Fairfax media / The Age (Melbourne)

Unique Identifier: FXJ333260



This image shows Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls alongside community leaders Laurie Moffatt, Eric Onus and Jim McGinness, as well as Victorian Opposition leader Clive Stoneham, in Melbourne in 1963. Leading a crowd of forty, Moffatt, Nicholls, Onus and McGinness marched through the city to Parliament House to protest the forced closure of Lake Tyers Aboriginal Station by the Aborigines Welfare Board. The rally was comprised of a coalition of First Nations activist groups, trade unions, supporters and allies. This demonstration was a landmark in the sustained and strategic political mobilisation that saw Lake Tyers declared a permanent Aboriginal reserve in 1965. The campaign incited and supported other claims to land and civil rights in the decades that followed.

The Lake Tyers mission site stands at Bung Yarnda on Gunaikurnai country on the Victorian South-East coast. The mission was established in 1861 under the stewardship of the Reverend John Bulmer of the Church of England. Until 1908, despite coercive religious instruction and interference with cultural life, Gunaikurnai residents continued to hunt, fish and care for country on the reserve in modes that echoed their pre-colonial practices. Gunaikurnai workers ran the station, and supplemented inadequate payment with seasonal work and the Lake Tyers tourist dollar. The community at Lake Tyers was strong, and the site became an important location in the story of Gunaikurnai survival against colonialism.

In 1908, the Aboriginals Protection Board assumed management of the mission. Seasonal labour was curtailed; the Board was reluctant to grant leave from the mission and laid charges of trespass against those who left to work and sought re-entry to the reserve upon their return. In 1917 the Board forced the relocation of residents of Coranderrk, Ramahyuck, Condah, Ebenezer and other Victorian missions onto Lake Tyers, and the government reallocated those reserved acreages for non-Indigenous soldier resettlement. Throughout the 1950s, assimilation policies functioned to fracture families, disrupt the strength of First Nations communities and prevent Aboriginal peoples from organizing against colonial government agendas; in 1962, the Board announced the closure of Lake Tyers. In an explicitly eugenic policy environment, the residents of Lake Tyers began to organize, network, petition and protest.

Gunaikurnai man Laurie Moffatt mobilized the campaign to halt the closure from within the Lake Tyers community, and called for Black self-determination. At the same time, he travelled tirelessly to build political networks beyond his country with other First Nations activists, individual allies and organisations - including the Council for Aboriginal Rights and the Victorian Aboriginals Advancement League. Joe McGinness was born in the Northern territory, son of the Kungarakany woman Alayandabu; he found his beginnings in political organising at the Waterside Workers Federation and later became the first Indigenous president of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI). He travelled with Oodgeroo Noonuccal (known then as Kath Walker) and Gladys O’Shane from Queensland to spend time at Lake Tyers, and joined the campaign in Melbourne. Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls - lauded in Victoria as a statesman and an activist alongside his wife Lady Gladys – held a position on the Aborigines Welfare Board until 1963, when he resigned in public protest against the proposal to close Lake Tyers. Then and afterwards, he stood with Bill and Eric Onus at the centre of the re-enlivened Aboriginals Advancement League and the public campaign to support those fighting for Lake Tyers. All three were known as diplomatically astute and politically outspoken Yorta Yorta men from Cummeragunja.

In the years after this photograph was taken, these activists and their community and supporters continued to petition and protest. Pressure on the government and the Board increased, until the campaign was successful and Lake Tyers was gazetted as a permanent reserve in 1965. Six years later, 4000 hectares of the mission site became one of the first parcels of land to be handed to the Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust under Victorian legislation; the Aboriginal Lands Act 1970 (Vic). This land continues to be held by the Trust. Since 1970, the Gunaikurnai community has increased its influence over land and water management in Gunaikurnai country via native title claims procedures and the establishment of strong joint management agreements.

The names of the activists who delivered Lake Tyers resound in Australian social and political histories and activist circles. Those depicted in this image were key figures in a generation of dissidents who were politically conscious, tenacious and astute in their engagement with colonial institutions and the state. It is necessary to appreciate that these men and others were accompanied, led and followed by female contemporaries – First Nations activist women including Faith Bandler, Pearl Gibbs, ‘Mum’ Shirley Smith, Margaret Tucker, Gladys O’Shane, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Lady Gladys Nicholls and many more. Colonial laws and governments stole many of their generation - and their children’s generations - from family, cultural inheritance and country. Their work was grounded in the importance of connection to country and community, and assertion of identity. These women and men made possible the powerful network of First Nations community organisations that now operate in all Australian states. They fostered the forms of kinship and pride that continue to strengthen and support their people, their communities, and their nations today.

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Location of MLS Classroom Photo Murals

In room 628 a large scale mural Pastor Doug Nicholls leads Aboriginal people from Lake Tyers to Parliament House in Melbourne, 23 May 1963 is installedThis image shows Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls alongside community leaders Laurie Moffatt, Eric Onus and Jim McGinness, as well as Victorian Opposition leader Clive Stoneham, in Melbourne in 1963. Leading a crowd of forty, Moffatt, Nicholls, Onus and McGinness marched through the city to Parliament House to protest the forced closure of Lake Tyers Aboriginal Station by the Aborigines Welfare Board. The rally was comprised of a coalition of First Nations activist groups, trade unions, supporters and allies. This demonstration was a landmark in the sustained and strategic political mobilisation that saw Lake Tyers declared a permanent Aboriginal reserve in 1965. The campaign incited and supported other claims to land and civil rights in the decades that followed. Image courtesy of Fairfax Media.