R8897 The Foundation 1963-1977: Stand up, be counted



This clip comprises interviews with two Indigenous activists and members of the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs, Joyce Clague and Charles (Chicka) Dixon, who explain the legal position of Indigenous Australians in the 1960s and recall the role they played in the push to change the Australian Constitution in the 1967 Referendum. The interviews are intercut with black-and-white footage, photographs and newspaper clippings from the time. Slow vocal and organ music is used in the clip.

Acknowledgements: Reproduced courtesy of australianscreen online.

Educational value
In this clip Joyce Clague and Chicka Dixon discuss the racial discrimination endured by Indigenous Australians that motivated them to campaign for years for a referendum to amend sections 51(xxvi) and 127 of the Australian Constitution. The repealing of these sections would give the Commonwealth the power to make laws in relation to Indigenous peoples and, for the first time, to include them in the census.
Section 127 of the Australian Constitution prior to the 1967 referendum stated that 'in reckoning the numbers of people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted'. Further, it stated that the Australian Government could make laws for 'The people of any race, other than the aboriginal people in any State, for whom it is necessary to make special laws'.
Most of the colonial delegates involved in the writing of the Australian Constitution in the 1890s considered Indigenous Australians a 'dying race' and felt it was unnecessary to include them in the Constitution; only two specific references were made to Indigenous peoples. The Australian Constitution, discussed in this clip, was drawn up in the Australian colonies prior to Federation and enacted by Queen Victoria in 1900.
The Referendum on 27 May 1967 returned a massive 'Yes' vote of 90.77 per cent and passed in all six states. As the ACT and Northern Territory were not states the people who lived there were unable to vote. The result of the referendum was the highest vote ever for constitutional change.
The petition for a referendum was originally launched in 1957 by Jessie Street, Faith Bandler and Doug Nicholls among others and many non-Indigenous people were involved in promoting it. However, it took 10 years of signature gathering, 94 petitions to federal parliament and much political lobbying before a referendum was held.
While the 1967 referendum did open the way for greater federal involvement in Indigenous affairs it has also been widely misunderstood. The referendum did not give Indigenous Australians the vote - this had occurred in 1962 - nor did it put an end to legal discrimination. Its purposes were to determine whether Indigenous people should be counted in the census and whether their exclusion from Australian federal law should be overturned.
The campaign for the referendum was conducted in a context of widespread legal racial discrimination. In 1962 Aboriginal people were unable to marry freely in Western Australia, Northern Territory or Queensland, could have their children removed by the government in those states and South Australia, and could only move about freely, own property freely and receive award wages in New South Wales. By 1966 most of these laws had been repealed.
Joyce Clague, nee Mercy, grew up on a mission on Ulgundahi Island on the Clarence River in northern NSW, moved to Sydney in the mid-1950s to study nursing and became a leading participant, activist and lobbyist for Indigenous rights. At the time of the referendum she was living in NT where, under the federal law of the time, people were unable to vote. She was awarded the Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 1977 for her work combating racism.
Year level
5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12
Aboriginal history
Constitutional law
Political campaigns
Learning area
Studies of society and environment
History/Historical knowledge and understandings
Studies of society and environment/Time, continuity and change
© Curriculum Corporation and australianscreen online, 2009, except where indicated under Acknowledgements