R7882 Indigenous activists, 1963



This is a black-and-white photograph showing at least three representatives of the Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement (FCAA). The woman is Kath Walker (later Oodgeroo Noonuccal). The man with the glasses is Pastor Doug Nicholls, and the man with a hat is Elia Ware Senior. The other two men in the photograph are unidentified. The photograph is believed to have been taken on 27 September 1963 at an unknown location, probably in Canberra.

Acknowledgements: Reproduced courtesy of Fryer Library, The University of Queensland.

Educational value
The FCAA members seen here were part of a delegation that met prime minister Robert Menzies (1894-1978) in Canberra on 27 September 1963 as part of an ongoing campaign for a referendum to remove two discriminatory clauses from the Australian Constitution. One clause prevented the federal government from legislating for Indigenous Australians and the other excluded Indigenous Australians from being counted in national censuses.
The FCAA, the peak body for various state and territory bodies sharing the same general aims, was formed in Adelaide in 1958 to campaign against discriminatory treatment of Australia's Indigenous people, especially in federal and state legislation, and to work for Indigenous land rights and the right to equal pay for Indigenous workers. It became the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) in 1964.
The referendum was a major goal for the FCAA and in 1962 and 1963, when this photograph was taken, it coordinated the distribution of petitions throughout Australia, seeking public support for a referendum. With the help of student groups, churches and trade unions, more than 100,000 signatures were collected. The petitions were presented to members of the House of Representatives, including Menzies, for tabling in the House, every sitting day for six weeks.
In the centre of this photograph is Kath Walker, later known as Oodgeroo Noonuccal (1920-93), a Queensland writer, activist for Indigenous rights, promoter of Indigenous Australian cultures, educator and environmentalist. When the FCAA delegation met Menzies, she seized the opportunity of his offering them an alcoholic drink to highlight discriminatory legislation by pointing out that his action was illegal under laws then in place in every state.
Pastor Doug Nicholls (1906-88) was the founding pastor of the Church of Christ Aborigines' Mission in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy and a key player in various organisations, including the Aboriginal Advancement League and FCAA. Born in New South Wales, Nicholls was the first Indigenous member of the Victorian Australian Rules Interstate Team in 1935 and in 1957, six years before this photograph was taken, he was made a Member of the British Empire (MBE).
Elia Ware (1910-87) was an activist from Moa Island in the Torres Strait who, in the 1960s in conjunction with FCAA president Joe McGinness (1914-2003), established a Thursday Island branch of the Cairns Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advancement League. As a young man Ware had worked as a seaman and he served in the Torres Strait infantry regiment during the Second World War (1939-45).
Aboriginal peoples
Torres Strait Islanders
© Curriculum Corporation, 2009, except where indicated under Acknowledgements