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The assertion of Tasmanian Aboriginality From the 1967 Referendum to Mabo

This paper takes as its starting point a period before the 1967 Referendum
which gave full citizenship rights to Australian Aborigines and the Federal
Government a mandate over Aboriginal Affairs. During the 40's and 50's the
Aboriginal people of Tasmania, represented by the people of Cape Barren
Island, stubbornly resisted the assimilation policies of the day. In briefly
examining the thesis of resistance as proposed by Lyndall Ryan in her 1981
edition of The Aboriginal Tasmanians, and the proposition that the Government
sought to abandon the Island, the paper draws upon new material.
Despite the referendum the State government like the wider community saw
little relevance to Tasmania, denying the existence of Aborigines as such, but
joining in the CommonwealWState Conferences of Aboriginal Affairs to
safeguard State interests, obtain funds to prop up services to the Island,
particularly health, and to secure housing finance.
Support for the Aboriginal cause, however, was not lacking. The Aboriginal
Advancement League based in Devonport, the Communist Party of Tasmania
and Abschol, which was to become the Australian Union of Students action
group for Aboriginal rights, were to play a role in sensitising the Tasmanian
community to Aboriginal issues and in seeking justice for Tasmanian
Aborigines. It was Abschol, however, which was to become the dominant non-
Aboriginal organisation in the pursuit of Aboriginal rights.
In the early '70's the Tasmanian Aboriginal people decided to take over their
own destiny. This assertion was led by Rosalynd Langford, a Victorian
Aborigine of Tasmanian descent. In 1972 the Aboriginal Information Centre
(later the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre) was established. This paper looks at
the history of TAC over the next 20 years. It was to become one of the most
forceful and successful black political organisations in Australia and we
examine the reason for that success. Whilst the figure of Michael, Mansell
emerges on the local, national and eventually the international scene, the record
would not be complete if it neglected reference to other contributors to the
Neither would the story be complete without reference to the genealogical work
of Mollison et al, the whole question of Aboriginality, the reworking of
Aboriginal history from the people's perspective, cultural renewal and
Aboriginal spirituality. Central to this issue of history and identity is the world
wide quest for the skeletal remains of the Van Diemen's Land people and theirreturn to Tasmania, which the paper identifies as a brilliant strategy of
unification and consciousness raising, but one full of emotional and spiritual
This paper concludes with an examination .of the struggle for Land Rights in
Tasmania. At this point in time some form of Land Rights legislation seems
inevitable, although as the story tells, Aboriginal people have had their previous
hopes dashed on a number of occasions.* There is, however, a further matter
on the Aboriginal agenda; self govenunent. To underestimate these later
aspirations is to fail to recognise the power and commitment of the Tasmanian
Aboriginal people.
* Note: In November 1995 an Aboriginal Lands Bill passed throug-h the
Tasmanian Parliament (proclaimed 6 December, 1995), 'transferring certain
lands to the Aboriginal people and establishing an Aboriginal Lands trust.
Date January 1995
CreatorsDaniels, DW
Source SetsAustraliasian Digital Theses Program
Detected LanguageEnglish

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