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Research Guides


Commonwealth Government Records about Tasmania


The 1960s

In the 1960s, a groundswell towards reform and action was discernible – in both Tasmania and nationally, in the political sphere and within Indigenous communities. In 1962, the Commonwealth Electoral Act was amended, ensuring that all Aboriginal people could vote. Four years later, emerging leaders such as Charlie Perkins achieved prominence with a Freedom Ride through western New South Wales protesting against discrimination and segregation. In Tasmania, communities centred on the western corner of Cape Barren Island and Invermay in Launceston continued to resist assimilationist pressures that they resettle in the wider community, caught by a variety of attitudes, assumptions and conflicting labels, as Brian Mansell, for example, recalled with such frustration for traveller Tim Bowden. Indeed the decade had opened with a conference of Commonwealth and state ministers held in Canberra on 26 and 27 January 1961 to consider the advancement of the welfare of Indigenous Australians. Tasmania was represented technically by the Chief Secretary, who in turn sent the Director of Social Services, GC Smith. A policy of assimilation was reaffirmed.

In March 1967, the Holt government introduced the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginals) Bill to delete the words 'other than the aboriginal race in any State' from section 51(xxvi), and to delete section 127 altogether. Up to that time, section 51 comprised a long list of Parliament's law-making powers, one being to make laws with respect to 'the people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State'. The problem with section 127 is clear from the heading, 'Aborigines not to be counted in reckoning population'. When put as referendum questions in May 1967, the changes were supported strongly in every state and nationally. Accordingly, the prohibition on counting Aboriginal people in the population statistics was removed, and census data from 1971 began to enable the comprehensive calculation of indicators such as infant mortality rates and life expectancy. In addition, with a new section 51(xxvi) which dropped the words 'other than the aboriginal race …', Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people ceased to be mentioned at all in the Constitution.

Despite popular belief, the referendum result did not grant rights or provide any guarantees. It did, however, encourage the Commonwealth to accept wider responsibility and to some degree an expectation that they would. New policies and government machinery emerged, Prime Minister Holt for example, establishing an advisory body called the Council for Aboriginal Affairs, which comprised three eminent non-Indigenous people: Dr HC 'Nugget' Coombs (chair), Australian diplomat Barrie Dexter and anthropologist Professor WEH Stanner. Later, the Office of Aboriginal Affairs was established. Then in July 1968, a Commonwealth-sponsored meeting of federal and state ministers for Aboriginal affairs was convened with a very different set of assumptions to those in 1937. At the same time, an Aboriginal Enterprises (Assistance) Act 1968 established a fund for the purposes of pursuing a business enterprise. There was also a States Grants (Aboriginal Advancement) Act 1968 that provided for payments to the states to be used in a manner approved of by the federal minister.

Selected items relating to the Conference of Commonwealth and State Aboriginal authorities held in Canberra in July 1968
National Archives, Canberra
Council for Aboriginal Affairs – Commonwealth and State Ministers Conference 12 July 1968, 1968 A1209, 1968/8725
Council for Aboriginal Affairs – Commonwealth–State Ministers Conference, 12 July 1968, 1968–69 A1209, 1971/9265

Again, the Tasmanian Government had no-one with an appropriate portfolio responsibility to send, but nevertheless its Chief Secretary, Brian Miller, attended. Now there was federal funding for Indigenous housing, and the state government was keen to encourage Islanders to resettle on the Tasmanian mainland. Miller returned to Hobart with $25,000. It was a pattern which continued through the late 1960s and into the 1970s. Annual figures for state grants under the Aboriginal Housing Program 1968–69 ($25,000) and 1975–76 ($223,000) appear in Table 1 of the Interdepartmental Committee on Aboriginal Programs Report, August 1976 (NAA: A12909, 654).

Items recorded by the Office of Aboriginal Affairs/Council for Aboriginal Affairs/ Council and Office of Aboriginal Affairs, 1967–72
National Archives, Canberra
Recorded by:
Cape Barren Islanders – eligibility for Social Security benefits – unemployment and sickness benefits, 1964–79 A884, A2040
Tasmania – general, 1968 A2354, 1968/147
Tasmania 1968/1969 – aid requests – health, housing, education, 1969–70 A2354, 1968/366
Aboriginal Housing Societies – financed by Commonwealth – all states, 1970–73 A2354, 1970/443
Cape Barren Island projects – capital fund assistance, 1970–73 A2354, 1970/257
Tasmania aid requests 1970/1971 – housing, health, education, employment, 1970–71 A2354, 1970/133
Cape Barren Island – Tasmania and Flinders Islands, 1979–73 A2354, 1969/805 PART 1

Commonwealth machinery – nationally and in Tasmania

Commonwealth acceptance of a leadership role after the 1967 referendum in the national coordination and funding of Indigenous services resulted in May 1971 in the creation of the Department of the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts (CA 1407). This development was further strengthened by the first Whitlam government, through the creation in December 1972 of a separate dedicated agency, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (CA 1476). In April 1973, at yet another meeting of relevant state representatives, an Australian Aboriginal Affairs Council was formed to give some continuity. Negotiations began immediately with each state, with a view to transferring the policy planning and coordination functions to the federal government. All except Queensland agreed. Eventually, in August 1974, a small office of the federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs was established in Hobart to give the new department a nation-wide presence. The state office was established as a new agency rather than as a transferred Tasmanian unit because, as explained, the Tasmanian Government had no existing Aboriginal affairs agency. The National Archives' Hobart Office retains several metres of records generated by the state office of this new federal agency.

Series recorded by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, State Office, Tasmania, 1974–90
National Archives, Hobart
Recorded by:
Correspondence files, single year series 1970, 1974– P1578
Correspondence files two number series with year prefix, 1974 P1579
Correspondence files, annual single number series with alpha prefix, 1974–90 P1580
Correspondence files, multiple number series, 1974–90 P1582
Correspondence files, top numbered files in subject order, 1974–90 P2474
Cape Barren Islanders Community Direct Grants – housing, 1973–75 1974/1-6 PART 1 (P1579/4, BOX 1)
Flinders Island Community Association – Fishing and Processing Co. Pty Ltd, 1977–82 8/80 – fls PART 9 (P1579/4, BOX 2)
Tasmanian Aboriginal Council – departmental policy – structure and function of organisation, 1977–79 1977/3-5 (P1579/4, BOX 3)
Conferences general – Department of Aboriginal Affairs [includes Crowther Collection], 1984 A82/076 PART 2 (P1580/23, BOX 1)
Tasmanian Aboriginal Child Care – general – Constitution, 1980 A82/059 (P1580/23, BOX 2)
Trefoil Island Aboriginal Corporation, 1979–80 A82/232 (P1580/23, BOX 3)
Organisations – general – Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre – Maxwell River caves, 1986 A86/129 PART 1 (P1580/23, BOX 4)
Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, Aboriginal Legal Service, Michael Mansell, Libya, 1987 A87/346 (P1580/23, BOX 5)
Housing – Flinders Island, 26 August 1975 – 21 March 1978, 1975–78 5-2-7 (P1582/3, BOX 1)
Flinders Island Aboriginal Association Wybalenna Cultural Festival G5/92 (P2474/1, BOX 2)
Department of Aboriginal Affairs Wayee Radio – radio show/cultural activities T88/89-108 (P24744/2, BOX 1)

In March 1980, an amalgamation of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the Aboriginal Development Commission formed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. Equivalent changes happened at the state level. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs, State Office, Tasmania became the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, State Office, Tasmania (CA 7152). The National Archives' Hobart Office retains records generated by these state offices.

Selected series recorded by the Aboriginal Development Commission, Regional Office, Victoria/Tasmania, 1980–85
National Archives, Melbourne
Recorded by:
Correspondence files, annual single number series, 1981 B4509
Correspondence files, annual single number series with LC [Loans Commission] prefix, 1975–80 B4512
Correspondence files, single number series, 1980–90 B6055
Correspondence files, multiple number series, 1982–84 B6056
Selected series recorded by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, State Office, Victoria/Tasmania, 1990–2005
National Archives, Melbourne
Recorded by:
General correspondence files, annual single number series, 1990– B6059
Correspondence files, annual single number series with E prefix, 1990–92 B6061
Correspondence files, annual single number series with M prefix, 1990–92 B6062
Correspondence files, annual single number series with W prefix, 1990–93 B6063
Selected series recorded by the Aboriginal Development Commission, Area Office, Hobart, 1982–90
National Archives, Hobart
Recorded by:
Aboriginal Development Commission project files, multiple number system with alpha/word prefix, 1982–90 P2476
Selected series recorded by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, State Office, Tasmania, 1990–2001
National Archives, Hobart
Recorded by:
Correspondence files, single year series 1970, 1974– P1578
Correspondence files two number series with year prefix, 1974– P1579
Correspondence and program files, multiple number with alpha prefix series, 1990–92 P2480

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Chapter 6
Tasmanian Aboriginal people