Reserves: A continuing issue
Although the 1967 referendum could be interpreted as the moment of climax for the policy of 'assimilation', one of the central issues of the 'assimilation' era remained unresolved: what was the future of Aboriginal reserves.
By 1967 there were still 353 separate reserves for Indigenous Australians, totalling 119,845,314 acres, with 53,000 residents - or 41 per cent of the known Indigenous population. In that year the Government stated the following perspective on reserves:
'Until all Aborigines become independent members of the Australian community, land must be reserved for their use, normally within their tribal communities...
'The future of reserves, settlements and Mission communities is hard to predict. It will vary according to their location and economic potential. Those in arid and isolated regions with apparently no economic future will have to be maintained by Governments or Missions as long as they serve any useful purpose. In the long run, if rising generations move away so as to become independent, such institutions might remain for a period as homes for those aged Aborigines who feel spiritual and sentimental ties to the particular regions. On the other hand, some settlements and Missions in fertile coastal regions will probably develop into permanent, predominantly or totally Aboriginal communities. Indeed, there is a definite trend in the direction of Aboriginal ownership and development of reserves wherever this is possible...
'In this connection, the statement made in the Queensland Annual Report for 1964-5 needs repeating, but with Australia-wide reference: "In order to correct misunderstandings which from time to time create erroneous impressions, it should be observed that the Aboriginal people of Queensland are not restricted in any way with regard to ownership of land. There are many who own and hold title to freehold properties, perpetual town leases and special leases in the same way as other members of the general community."
'The obstacle of course, as with many other citizens, is lack of the necessary money for deposit or total payment as the case may be. But directly and indirectly, Aboriginal welfare authorities help where possible.'
Keywords: 1967 referendum, assimilation, missions, Queensland, reserves, vote, 1967-1999
Commonwealth Department of Territories 1967, 'The Australian Aborigines', Halstead Press, pp 75-8.
Author: Rowse, Tim and Graham, Trevor