Paul Daley comments in The Guardian (19.5.17) on the disappointing amount of positive change achieved for Indigenous Australians since the historic 1967 referendum on recognising the ATSI population in the national census.
'Sol Bellear, a former rugby league player for South Sydney Rabbitohs and Aboriginal rights activist, sits in the soft autumn sunshine at a cafe intersecting Redfern Park and the oval that remains the spiritual home of his beloved club.
'He sips a Red Bull “heart starter” and English breakfast tea. And he shakes his head while contemplating the anniversaries of what ought to have been transformative moments for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – starting with the 1967 “citizenship” referendum that first made their existence in Australia “official”.
'“Things should be so much better for Aboriginal people. I think the country saw 1967 as the end of the fight,” Bellear says. “Before 1967, we weren’t counted in the census or anything as people. Dogs and cats and pigs and sheep were counted in Australia before Aboriginal people”.
'Indigenous people had never previously been officially included among the Australian citizenry, nor counted in the Commonwealth census – so the federal government could not legislate for them. But on 27 May 1967, more than 90% of the Australian electorate voted at the “citizenship” referendum to effectively bring Indigenous people into the Commonwealth.
'“After the referendum, though, it was like the work was done for the rest of the country and governments – when it was actually just the bloody beginning,” Bellear says. “Every little thing we’ve won since, we’ve had to fight for”.'