Aboriginal struggle remains, 40 years on
WHEN she was growing up, Bundjalung Elder Auntie Elva was regarded as part of the nation??s wildlife. Her people were not counted in the census, they were not allowed to own property, and they were not allowed to vote. Then came the 1967 referendum, when Australians voted to extend full citizenship to Aborigines. Yesterday, just four days before the 40th anniversary of that vote, Auntie Elva said Aboriginal rights had declined over the past decade to a level similar to that following the referendum. She said while things improved vastly when Gough Whitlam became Prime Minister in 1972, the Howard Government??s tolerance of Pauline Hanson??s views, and the abolition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) had set indigenous rights and reconciliation back 30 years. ??We haven??t got a political voice any more. ATSIC has been taken away, a lot of things have been mainstreamed and the people who are in a position to take action have been specially picked so they won??t cause a stir,?? she said. ??The Kath Walkers of the world were classed as radicals at the time of the referendum, but they are the ones who agitated and changed a lot of things. ??At the moment the people like Kath have been silenced, and because of that things have gone back to how they were in the years following the referendum. Much of the progress they made has been lost?? Reflecting on the years preceding the landmark vote, Auntie Elva said life was full of infuriating inequalities, where indigenous Australians were treated as part of the natural environment. ??Before 1967 you couldn??t own land or buy a house and yet you worked and you paid your taxes,?? she said. ??We weren??t allowed to vote but then they sent Aboriginal men away to fight and die in the World Wars, people say we were treated as second class citizens but we were less than that, we weren??t citizens at all. ??Before the referendum we Aboriginal people were seen as flora and fauna, we weren??t even thought of as humans.?? She said the referendum was the most important change in recent Aboriginal history. ???Read more about the 1967 referendum and its ramifications in Saturday??s edition of The Daily Examiner.