Demonstration supporting the 1967 Referendum, Parliament House

Room 630

Demonstration supporting the 1967 Referendum, Parliament House
Demonstration supporting the 1967 Referendum, Parliament House. Item no.: DIXON.C01.DF-D00000181 Date/Place taken: c1965-1967: Canberra, A.C.T. Notes: Persons photographed include: Chicka Dixon; William Wentworth. Access: Conditions apply

Demonstration supporting the 1967 Referendum, Parliament House

The most-decisive referendum victory in Australian history occurred on May 27, 1967. The majority of people in the majority of states voted ‘Yes’ in favour of deleting two negative references (in s 51 (xxvi) and s127) to Aborigines in Australia’s Constitution.  These sections wrote the history of colonisation into law, and into political and social operation. They worked to authorise the discriminatory exclusion of Indigenous peoples from full legal recognition and participation in a democratic nation, based purely on their status as First nations peoples.

The 1967 referendum success was the culmination of a long struggle for rights, respect, and recognition of First nations peoples and their laws. That struggle and the campaign were led by Indigenous people. Many groups and individuals, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, worked under this leadership to realise a significant moment when Australia, as a nation bound by law, began to understand its obligations, and its history.

The story of constitutional recognition is of course not complete. In 26 May 2017, forty years after the referendum, Indigenous representatives and leaders from all across the country met in Uluru, and drafted the Statement of the Heart: a document calling for Truth, Treaty, and Voice.  We have included this statement here:


We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart:

Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago.

This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.

How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years?

With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.

Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.

These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness.

We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.

We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.

Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.

We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.

In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.

The statement asks for a compact to mature Australia’s law and history, and its sense of obligations, and relationships. It is important for all of us.

Location of MLS Classroom Photo Murals

In seminar rooms 629 and 630 two murals significant to the fight by First Nations people in the fight for rights, respect and recognition. In room 629, the image titled Boxer Jack Hassen with daughter outside Parliament House prior to 1967 Referendum  captures the personal courage and fortitude  that this long struggle required. In room 630, the image installed Demonstration supporting the 1967 Referendum, Parliament House captures the many Indigenous and non-Indigenous people working to realise a significant moment in history.  Images courtesy of Fairfax Media.

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