1967 Aboriginal referendum hopes dashed

After the 1967 Federal referendum that recognised Australia's Aborigines as citizens, indigenous people "expected good things to follow, but they didn't", a Brisbane Murri leader says.

The referendum on 27 May 1967 approved two amendments to the Australian constitution relating to Indigenous Australians.

Overwhelmingly endorsed by 90.77 per cent of voters, the referendum attracted the highest "yes" vote ever recorded in a Federal referendum.

But Brisbane archdiocese's Murri Ministry coordinator Ravina Waldren told the Catholic Leader that reconciliation has since then became an empty word.

"Everyone talks of reconciliation, which is a familiar concept to Christian people", she said, "but what does it mean to our people, it is just a feel good approach to indigenous issues."

The paper quotes prominent Aboriginal Catholic leader Graeme Mundine as saying that most Australians do not care if indigenous Australians are left on the "dung heap of society".

At the start of National Reconciliation Week, celebrated 27 May-3 June, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission executive secretary asked whether the Australian people really cared about indigenous Australians.

"This is the picture which I see has emerged," Mr Mundine said of the 40 years since Australians stood up for indigenous people and allowed Federal laws to be made on their behalf and for them to be counted in the census.

"Some (indigenous Australians) have become better educated and are doing quite well within the wider community, but for the vast majority life still stinks."

Mr Mundine, who spoke with visiting Jesuit anthropologist Fr Jojo Fung yesterday at Sydney's only Aboriginal church in La Perouse, said for many years politicians had been heard to say, "there are no votes in blacks", when asked to address the plight of indigenous Australians.

Brisbane's Catholic Justice and Peace Commission executive officer Peter Arndt said Mr Mundine's comments were understandable.

"Forty years after the referendum, which gave many people hope that indigenous Australians would finally see some justice, there are still enormous problems and difficulties for indigenous people and governments don't seem to want to take concerted action to deal with them," Mr Arndt said.

Can't gloss over reality, Adelaide archbishop says

In a Pentecost Sunday statement Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson says that the 1967 referendum - its anniversary this year falls on Pentecost Sunday - "is rightly seen as a turning point in our national history".

"From that time, the rights and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians has become an important area of Commonwealth legislation and policy-making, and of national discussion and debate," Archbishop Wilson says.

The referendum also "began the process of coming to grips with painful and traumatic aspects of our history".

"We cannot gloss over the reality of continuing injustices, the stark social and economic inequalities, and also the lost opportunities to progress the cause of reconciliation," Archbishop Wilson concludes.

"In a land of plenty, and after a sustained period of strong economic growth, statistics relating to indigenous health, life expectancy, infant mortality, income and incarceration paint a picture of serious and persistent disadvantage."

In another statement to mark the anniversary, Catholic Religious Australia have also paid tribute to indigenous Australians, thanking them for their resilience and for the richness their cultures bring to Australian life while promising continued efforts at reconciliation.

The peak body for more than 8,500 men and women Religious also warned that unless Australia unites in efforts of reconciliation, "a poverty of spirit will afflict our entire nation".

"During the last 40 years, we Religious sisters, brothers and priests, like so many other Australians, have come to a deeper understanding of the history of our nation; the need to recognise the original owners and custodians of these lands and waters; to make a just and proper settlement; and to address the injustices of the past and the present," the statement said.

Life 'stinks' for too many (Catholic Leader, 27/5/07)
Archbishop Philip Wilson Pentecost 2007 Letter (27/5/07)
Religious honour Indigenous Australia (Catholic Religious Australia, Media Release, 24/5/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Make Indigenous Poverty History
Archbishop Philip Wilson
Catholic Religious Australia
Australian referendum 1967 (Wikipedia)
Voices of hope - New Pentecost Forum

Colonisers "trampled" on indigenous rights, Pope admits (CathNews, 25/5/07)
Indigenous Aussies among first climate change victims (CathNews, 4/10/05)

25 May 2007