Juno Gemes


CANBERRA: National
Portrait Gallery
Opening Day Photos
SYDNEY: Macquarie
University Art Gallery
Opening Day Photos
History Forum Day
Forum Day Photos
The Proof Readings
Readings Photos
Warawara Photos
SYDNEY: Museums Australia Conference & Dinner
MOREE: Moree Plains Gallery
Opening Day Photos
South Australian Museum
University of Virginia, Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection
Review, photos
GOSFORD: Regional Art Gallery
Press release 1
Press release 2
Opening night photos
Opening night speech


The Long March for Justice and Hope

Portraits from The Movement 1978 – 2003

Gosford Regional Art Gallery

Opening Night Speech, 25 May 2007

by Professor John Maynard

Ladies and gentlemen:

I would just like to begin by respectfully acknowledging the traditional custodians of this land within which I am most honored to be a visitor: the Darkinjung people.

Back in 2003 I was an invited speaker, alongside Jackie Huggins, Heather Goodall, and Gordon Briscoe, at a free forum, 'Aboriginal Activism: Then and Now', held at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, which launched this exhibition.

So it is a little special to catch up with it some four years down the track. I congratulate Juno Gemes on what is a truly magnificent exhibition. It is a trip down memory lane and highlights some of the critical moments and individuals that have played such important roles in the Aboriginal political movement across the past thirty years.

It is also important to reflect that we have reached a critical stage in this country and conditions for Aboriginal people and communities have if anything gone backwards and the proud, strong and vibrant grassroots Aboriginal political movement of the past has fallen silent. Factions and encouraged divisions within our community ranks are extremely damaging. We need to come together and unite and mobilize once again if we are truly going to bring about change in this country. It is in the past that we can draw inspiration for the future. It is timely that this exhibition coincides with the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum.

The '67 Referendum: what a crucial and defining moment in not just Aboriginal but Australian history. And it was all through the tenacity and courage of a small but determined group of people that the landslide 'Yes' vote was carried. It is well documented that they had taken up the fight for some ten years before that historic vote.

The euphoria of the 1967 Referendum was overwhelming within Aboriginal communities; at last the long fight was beginning to bring about results. But now, forty years on, one looks back on a 'false prophet' and the failure to take advantage of such a wonderful opportunity. Today Aboriginal people register horrific health statistics, with a life expectancy 20 years less than the non-Indigenous population. We suffer the highest rates of incarceration and clear disadvantage in housing, education, employment and every other measurement of living standard you care to analyze. It is quite clear that Australian Governments and wider Australian society, despite the 'Yes' vote in 1967, could not move away from the entrenched notion of a 'we know what's best for you' mentality and the subsequent ongoing damage of that philosophy.

Despite that negative there are some important lessons embedded within 1967 and its aftermath. It was one of those moments when Aboriginal people and their supporters had convinced wider white Australia to recognize the serious imbalance of Aboriginal existence and walk with us to make change. This is a crucial point! Without question we are an extremely marginalized minority and it has only been on the occasions when we have managed to mobilize non-Indigenous support that we have made a major impact or forced change. In 1965 we had Charlie Perkins emulating the Freedom Rides of Dr. Martin Luther King and with a busload of non-Indigenous students he gained unprecedented media coverage, forcing the country to view the racism, segregation and horrific living conditions that Aboriginal people were forced to endure. Until that moment Aboriginal suffering and disadvantage was strategically hidden from the public view. The following year we had the Gurindji walk off at Wave Hill, and again Aboriginal leaders like Vincent Linguari recognized the importance of white support, most notably through the trade union movement. The 1972 Tent Embassy was another of those moments where a small number of Aboriginal activists galvanized the attention of the nation and international media and widespread white student support. The 1988 Bicentennial in Sydney also witnessed a mobilizing of non-Indigenous support, and the Corroboree 2000 walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge attracted over half a million people.

It is also very important to recognize that Aboriginal political mobilization was not a product of the 1960s or the lead up to the Referendum. My grandfather, Fred Maynard, was the leader of the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association that formed in Sydney in 1924. This organization is today recognized as the first united, organized, all-Aboriginal political group to form in this country. Sadly, they were eventually hounded out of existence by the police acting for the NSW Aborigines Protection Board.

They would hold four conferences in Sydney, Kempsey, Grafton and Lismore, and open their own offices in Crown Street Sydney. Their platform and demands insisted that Aboriginal people had overriding rights to land over all others in their country, and wanted forty acres of land granted to each and every Aboriginal family in the country. They wanted citizenship, the practice of removing Aboriginal kids from their families stopped, the Protection Board abolished and replaced with an all-Aboriginal organization to oversee Aboriginal affairs under the Commonwealth government, a Royal Commission into Aboriginal issues and a strong Aboriginal cultural identity protected. Some of their demands, like citizenship and the Commonwealth government taking charge of Aboriginal affairs, came to fruition in 1967.

The events, people and voices of the past can inspire and lead this country to a new shared future of prosperity where we are truly reconciled. We are left today to ponder and lament on what might have been. If the AAPA demands for enough land for each and every Aboriginal family in the country had been met back in 1925 we would have witnessed several decades of Aboriginal opportunity to build on a solid base of economic independence. If the demand had been met to stop the Board's practice of removing Aboriginal children from their families we would not have endured another five decades of that horrific practice. If a rich Aboriginal cultural base had been recognized and protected we would not now be entwined in the slow process of putting together a fragmented jigsaw puzzle with many of the important cultural pieces, including language, missing. This exhibition is a window to an inspirational past and it is a long one.

To our people, and those that support us: 'Stay strong; the struggle goes on.'

Thank you.