Land not the issue in 1967
Those advancing the 'yes' case, including the Conservative Government of the day, used general and uncontroversial slogans, such as 'equal rights' and 'full citizenship', without spelling out the implications that such slogans might have for the land rights issue. The 1967 referendum was definitely not a vote on land rights. Among those voting 'yes' there was great variety of opinion about what the Commonwealth should do with its new powers, and the Coalition Government saw in the large 'Yes' vote no reason to change its policy of denying to Indigenous Australians' a distinct right to land.
That is why, in July 1968, the Coalition government of John Gorton refused the Gurindji demand for land, and merely set up a township for the strikers not far from Wave Hill. The Country Party Minister in charge of the Northern Territory, Peter Nixon, explained why the Government could not endorse indigenous land rights:
'The Government is in favour of Aboriginals gaining title to land but believes that this should be under the land tenure system which applies to the rest of the community and under conditions which will give them real prospects of improving their position in life....the Government wishes to avoid measures which are likely to set Aboriginal citizens permanently apart from other Australians through having their development based on separate or different standards....some Aboriginals will find their future as landowners. Others will choose to follow a different vocation.'
Keywords: 1967 referendum, activism, citizenship, Gurindji, human rights, Inter-racial Seminar, justice, Mabo, Edward Koiki, Northern Territory, vote, 1968
Peter Nixon, Minister for the Northern Territory: Press release Tabled in House of Representatives, 13 August 1968.
Author: Rowse, Tim and Graham, Trevor