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Submission Number
Purai Global Indigenous History Centre, University of Newcastle
Submission date
Main Submission Automated Transcript

The Voice to Parliament isn’t a new idea - Indigenous activists called
for it nearly a century ago
January 3, 2020 8.55am AEDT
Professor John Maynard

When one reads the Uluru Statement of the Heart – and its call for a Voice to Parliament – it
is important to recognise this is not a new fight. In fact, Aboriginal people began making
demands for a political voice nearly a century ago.

The first Aboriginal political organisation, the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association
(AAPA), was formed in Sydney in 1924 and advocated several key changes aimed at
protecting the rights of Aboriginal people.

These centred on basic rights such as land for every Aboriginal family and protecting
Aboriginal children from being taken from their families. The AAPA also called for genuine
Aboriginal self-determination and an Aboriginal board to sit under the Commonwealth

A number of these points were later resurfaced in the Uluru Statement – most notably, the
establishment of a First Nations Voice.

Get your news from people who know what they’re talking about.

The AAPA logo in 1924. Author provided

The launch of organised Aboriginal political protest
The AAPA’s statements, manifestos, speeches and correspondence set a clear path for
guaranteeing Indigenous rights.
Fred Maynard, my grandfather, was the president of the AAPA in the 1920s. In his inaugural
address to the organisation in 1925, he said,

Our people have not had the courage in the past to stand together but now we are united to
fight for all of the things that are near and dear to us. We want to be in charge of our own

Fred Maynard and his sister Emma in
Sydney in 1927. Author provided

More than 200 people gathered for this first-ever Aboriginal rights convention. The event
became front-page news, with banner headlines proclaiming, “Aborigines demand self
determination” and “Self determination is their aim”.

Two years later, the AAPA produced a manifesto that was delivered to all sections of
government – both state and federal – and published widely across NSW, South Australia,
Victoria and Queensland.

One of the most significant points was for an Aboriginal board to be established under the
Commonwealth government, and for state control over Aboriginal lives to be abolished.

The control of Aboriginal affairs, apart from common law rights shall be vested in a board of
management comprised of capable educated Aboriginals under a chairman to be appointed by
the government.
Having a Voice in Parliament
This was just the beginning of the fight for self-determination.

In 1927, Dorothy Moloney, a fervent non-Indigenous supporter of the AAPA, voiced her
public support for the organisation’s push for a royal commission into the state-controlled
Aborigines Protection Boards. This was a direct challenge to decades of mismanagement and
Aboriginal suffering.

In a newspaper column, Moloney emphasised the importance of Aboriginal recognition and
giving Aboriginal people the right to vote:

The founders of the Commonwealth Parliament … excluded the native population from the
franchise. The Royal Commission which will sit in the near future to make suggestions
regarding the amendment of the Constitution will be asked to reverse this unfortunate flaw,
since it is our boast that the people of this Country have a say in making the laws which they
are expected to obey.

Prime Minister Stanley Bruce contacted NSW Premier Jack Lang to inform him that a
request had been made for an “extra-parliamentary” royal commission into the present status and general conditions of the Aborigines.

Lang, in turn, referred the matter to the Aborigines Protection Board. Its response was both
negative and misinformed. And it sits as a reminder of the organisation’s sinister impact on
Aboriginal lives for the greater part of the 20th century.

The Board doubts that the appointment for a Commission to inquire into the matter is called
for, so far as New South Wales is concerned.

Maynard was outraged and wrote a powerful three-page response to Lang.

I wish to make it perfectly clear on behalf of our people, that we accept no condition of
inferiority as compared with the European people.

That the European people by the arts of war destroyed our more ancient civilisation is freely
admitted, and that by their vices and diseases our people have been decimated is also patent,
but neither of these facts are evidence of superiority. Quite the contrary is the case.

Aboriginal control over their own affairs
In early 1928, the Royal Commission into the Constitution was finally established in
Canberra to discuss, among other issues, the future of Aboriginal policy-making.

Maynard and missionary activist Elizabeth McKenzie-Hatton wrote a joint response to the
commission asserting the Commonwealth government was better equipped, more capable and
more accountable to manage Aboriginal affairs than the states.
AAPA Secretary Ben Roundtree also sent a letter to the commission strongly arguing the
Aboriginal demands for Commonwealth action.

He reiterated this position in a piece for the South Australian newspaper The Daylight: our unswerving loyalty is with you, to solidify the whole of the [A]boriginal position
throughout Australia, also for the abolition of the state control as constituted which we claim
is against the best interest of our people.

Sadly, though, the commission refused to take responsibility for Aboriginal affairs away from
the states and hand its oversight to an Aboriginal board to sit under the Commonwealth
government. The hopes of the AAPA and its supporters were dashed.

But Maynard didn’t stop pressing his cause. In early 1929, he spoke to the Chatswood
Willoughby Labour League in NSW on Aboriginal issues. A newspaper report mentioned his
call for an Aboriginal representative in the Federal Parliament, or failing it, to have an [A]boriginal ambassador appointed to live
in Canberra to watch over his people’s interests and advise the Federal authorities.

Important legacy of the AAPA
The AAPA disappeared from public view later that year. There is strong evidence the
organisation was effectively broken up through the combined efforts of the NSW Aborigines
Protection Board, missionaries and the police.

But the AAPA’s mission lived on. Two years later, Joe Anderson, one of the first Aboriginal
people to use film to voice demands for Aboriginal recognition, famously delivered a
nationwide address on the Cinesound News broadcast as the self-proclaimed “King Burraga”.
He declared:

All the black man wants is representation in Federal Parliament.

Copyright: Cinesound Movietone Productions, Thought Equity Motion.

Nearly a century later, we need to mobilise support to embrace the Uluru Statement and its
ideals of finally seeking to heal from the past and provide a platform that is just and equitable
for all Australians.

As the legacy of the AAPA illustrates, this recognition is long overdue.