Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship

2008
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Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship

Formed in 1956 by Pearl Gibbs and Faith Bandler, the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship functioned as a partnership between non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal people. [1] The purpose of the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship was to campaign for indigenous rights, with a focus on changing the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Board, and achieving equal pay and full citizenship. Pearl Gibbs saw the need to collaborate with non-indigenous Australians to reach influential people and educate the wider community about issues affecting Aborigines.

The first meeting

The Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship held its first public meeting at the Sydney Town Hall on 29 April 1957, filling the whole downstairs area and much of the upper level. [2] The meeting launched a petition for amendments to the Federal Constitution to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, drafted by Jessie Street.

Following the meeting, a range of organisations became affiliates of the fellowship, including 18 trade unions and the Union of Australian Women. [3] These organisations were able to assist the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship with the distribution of the petition through their networks.

Later that year, the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship itself became an affiliate of a newly formed national body, the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, which went on to lead the campaign for citizenship.

Campaigns and protests

In October 1961 the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship called its first New South Wales conference, where a resolution calling for the repeal of the Aborigines Protection Act 1909 was passed. The fellowship launched a state-wide campaign immediately, distributing leaflets and petitions, and staging meetings.

The state elections in March 1962 were used to step up the pressure on politicians. Each candidate was approached individually, and silent demonstrations were held at public policy meetings of the major parties. Members of the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship held up placards with slogans, including one that read 'Parliament House has a bar, has it got a colour bar too?'.[4]

After the election, the fellowship maintained the pressure. The cover of their July bulletin, Fellowship, appealed to the New South Wales premier, reading 'When, Mr Heffron?'. A month later, State Cabinet decided to repeal Section 9 of the Aborigines Protection Act 1909, thus allowing Aboriginal people to drink alcohol legally.

Land rights and living conditions

The Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship was also involved in campaigns for land rights and the improvement of living conditions for Aboriginal communities in New South Wales. The fellowship took a particular interest in La Perouse, where families were living in humpies. In 1961, an eight-point plan was developed by Charles Leon, a fellowship member and representative on the Aborigines Protection Board. After prolonged pressure and the engagement of local residents, the New South Wales Housing Commission made plans to develop the site as an Aboriginal historical, cultural and craft centre. [5]

The end of the fellowship

The Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship was disbanded in 1969, as it had been superseded by organisations that were founded and run by Aboriginal people. This marked a shift in Aboriginal politics as Aboriginal people took centre stage.

References

Faith Bandler and Len Fox (eds), The time was ripe: a history of the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship (1956–69), Alternative Publishing Cooperative, Chippendale NSW, 1983

Notes

[1] Muir Holburn quoted in Faith Bandler and Len Fox (eds), The time was ripe: a history of the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship (1956–69), Alternative Publishing Cooperative, Chippendale NSW, 1983, p 7

[2] Faith Bandler and Len Fox (eds), The time was ripe: a history of the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship (1956–69), Alternative Publishing Cooperative, Chippendale NSW, 1983, pp 11, 16

[3] Faith Bandler and Len Fox (eds), The time was ripe: a history of the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship (1956–69), Alternative Publishing Cooperative, Chippendale NSW, 1983, p 189

[4] Faith Bandler and Len Fox (eds), The time was ripe: a history of the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship (1956–69), Alternative Publishing Cooperative, Chippendale NSW, 1983, pp 102–3

[5] Faith Bandler and Len Fox (eds), The time was ripe: a history of the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship (1956–69), Alternative Publishing Cooperative, Chippendale NSW, 1983, p 126

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