Activity 3b: The Rights of Indigenous Australians

Australia enjoys a reputation as a country in which human rights have been observed and protected to a very high degree. However, two groups which are often mentioned as not enjoying the same benefits are the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Indigenous Australians are over-represented in statistics for poor health, welfare dependency, imprisonment rates and other ‘poor quality of life’ indicators.

Before 1901, the individual colonies (later ‘states’) had full responsibility for making laws that affected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as groups. In Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia there were restrictions on what work Indigenous peoples could do, and there were restrictions on the movement of Aboriginal people in all colonies except South Australia and Tasmania. These restrictions did not apply to other Australians.

This situation did not change with the creation of the Commonwealth of Australia. The Australian Constitution and some Acts of Parliament passed in the early part of the 20th century effectively meant that the Aboriginal people were not full citizens of the new nation.

These activities allow students to explore examples of these violations and discuss the steps taken to ensure that Indigenous Australians had citizenship rights equal to those of other Australians. 

Resources Required


e Resources

Task 1

Read the Handout: Aboriginal People and the Australian Constitution (1901). What effect might the status of Indigenous Australians as ‘second-class citizens’ have had on their quality of life?

Now access Making a Difference: The Day of Mourning Protesters (TLF-ID L5207). Explore perspectives on Australia’s Indigenous heritage about activists protesting on Australia Day, 1938. 

  • How did William Ferguson, William Cooper, Jack Patten, Margaret Tucker and Pearl Gibbs create a framework for later efforts promoting Indigenous rights?

  • What barriers did they face? 

  • How did the government of the time react to their activities?

  • How did the protesters increase understanding about the living conditions of Indigenous peoples?

  • How did the protesters' efforts bring about change around the nation? 

Task 2

In 1965 a group of about 30 people, primarily university students and a small number of Aboriginal people, made a bus trip from Sydney through towns in rural New South Wales. Their aim was to draw attention to racism in those areas – for example the exclusion of Indigenous people from public baths. They called themselves 'freedom riders'. They drew the attention of national newspapers and TV to the racially based policies and practices of many areas.

Watch the Blood Brothers – Freedom Ride clips available on the Australian Screen website and list examples of human rights violations against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Now see the TLF resource Making a difference: Pat O’Shane (TLF-ID L5214). Add to your list of examples of violations of human rights against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

Task 3

By 1967 most of Australia’s discriminatory laws had been abolished. In that year the Commonwealth Government proposed an amendment to the Constitution to give the overriding power to make laws concerning Indigenous Australians to the Commonwealth Parliament. Once the Commonwealth Government had the power to make laws, it passed a number of Acts affecting Indigenous Australians, including the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

Read Handout: The Racial Discrimination Act (1975). How might the Racial Discrimination Act have helped to ensure that Indigenous Australians had citizenship rights equal to those of other Australians? 

Task 4 

On 13 February 2008, the Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd addressed a decades-long concern about Indigenous rights in Australia. The Prime Minister made a national apology to the Stolen Generations who had been removed as children from their families over consecutive generations by government agencies.

Watch the National Apology to the Stolen Generations available on the Australian Government website and complete the following tasks:

  • Before watching find out who the Stolen Generations were and the name of the Commonwealth Government Report which detailed their experiences in Australia (Hint: It was released in 1997.)

  • While watching list three explicit or implicit examples of human rights abuses committed by successive Australian governments for which the Prime Minister apologised.

  • After watching construct a PMIQ to capture your thoughts about what the Apology is likely to achieve for Indigenous Australians and questions that you may wish to investigate further. A PMIQ is a graphic organiser that assists the user in recording the pluses (positive aspects), minuses (negative aspects), points of interest (neither positive nor negative) and questions.


Activity 3a | Activity 3b |  Activity 3c | Activity 3d 

For the teacher | Human Rights Introduction3: How Do We Characterise Human Rights in Australia? 

Overview of activities:  Focus Question 3