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The nation responds

On 27 May 1967, after a decade of campaigning, a referendum was held to change the Australian Constitution. Voters were asked whether they approved the following proposed laws for the alternation of the Constitution:

  1. “An Act to alter the Constitution so that the Number of Members of the House of Representatives may be increased without necessarily increasing the Number of Senators.”
  2. “An Act to alter the Constitution so as to omit certain words relating to the people of the Aboriginal race in any state so that Aboriginals are to be counted in reckoning the population'?”
 “The referendum is on Saturday and it is important that we have the maximum vote because the eyes of the world are on Australia. Faith Bandler

The Result

In all States except New South Wales the electors voted ‘No’ on the question to do with the composition of the Senate.  The question on the status of Aborigines was, however, carried overwhelmingly ‘Yes’ in all States.

The overall ‘Yes’ vote was 90.77%. The ‘No’ vote was largest in the three States with the largest Aboriginal populations. In Western Australia 19.05 per cent voted against, in South Australia 13.74 per cent and in Queensland 10.79 per cent. In New South Wales the ‘No’ vote was heaviest in the country electorates with racial problems.

Residents of the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory did not have the right to vote in referenda at that time. Many Territorians were annoyed that they did not have a vote on an issue that was of such direct relevance to them and on polling day there was a protest march in Alice Springs.

The Reaction

FCAATSI campaigners and supporters were jubilant at the overwhelming YES vote.

“This result meant that Aborigines would also be seen as Australian citizens according to the law, and entitled to benefits such as social services which many were excluded from under the state laws governing their everyday lives.”Joe McGinness
“It was such a wonderful thing. You know, in the end, this tiny little handful of people, practically penniless, achieved in getting 90.2% of the voting population of Australia to vote in favour of the change we required. So we went mad with excitement, I cannot tell you.”Faith Bandler

The decade long campaign by FCAATSI, which was funded by its members and staffed by volunteers, paid off. The global condemnation of Australia’s treatment of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, Yirrkala bark petitions, equal wages for Aboriginal pastoral workers, one million signatures on petitions supporting the referendum and the 1965 Freedom Rides all shone a spotlight on a the wrongs that needed to be right and why this was the Referendum Australia had to have.

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AIATSIS acknowledges the traditional owners of country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, culture and community.

We pay our respects to elders past and present.