The 1967 Referendum, or When the Aborigines Didn’t Get the Vote
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, $25.00 pb, 154 pp
This eccentric, laborious book is designed to correct what most of us think about the 1967 Referendum. The popular belief – the authors call it a myth – is that the Australian people then voted to acknowledge citizenship by giving Aborigines the vote, and that this was a Commonwealth thrust towards, crucial, deeper involvement in Aboriginal affairs.
‘Surely 27 May should be Australia’s national day,’ The Age opined last year, ‘On that date in 1967 by referendum, all Australian citizens, indigenous or otherwise, became equal under the Constitution with the same rights and responsibilities. True nationhood was born on the day.’ The sentiment is shared by Aboriginal leaders, including Patrick Dobson and Roberta Sykes.
But it is wrong, according to these four authors (two white historians and the two Aboriginal and Islander people who helped them with the all too sketchy oral testimonies dealing with ‘indigenous memories and perspectives’). It is wrong, or at least overstated for several reasons.