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Different white people: communists, unionists and Aboriginal Rights 1946-1972


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Wilson, DM 2013 , 'Different white people: communists, unionists and Aboriginal Rights 1946-1972', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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This thesis is an examination of left-wing activist contributions to the Aboriginal rights movement in Australia, with focus upon three important campaigns:
> Pilbara pastoral walk-offs in Western Australia 1946 – 1949
> Protests about weapons testing programs in Central Australia 1946 – late 1950s
> Aboriginal walk-offs in the Northern Territory 1966 – early 1970s
Information gathered from a broad range of sources (including archival materials, government records, newspapers and participants in this activism) is presented in three mini-narratives. An eclectic assortment of characters features as campaigns progress from sheep stations, through deserts, to cattle stations. The issues in focus also shift, as conflicts over worker and human rights are overwhelmed by modern battleground disputes about lands and compensation.
The study highlights left-wing collaboration, within a much broader pressure group of activists and organisations throughout Australia, working to advance the rights of Aboriginal people. Union support for Aboriginal rights variously ebbed and flowed during the period under investigation, but communists maintained vigorous solidarity throughout. Left-wing activism during the campaigns manifested in many forms, including provision of industrial advocacy and financial support, coordination of protest meetings and marches, hands-on assistance for Aboriginal activist communities, and comprehensive publicity of the stories in left-wing newspapers and journals. Artistic representation of disputes also featured in left-wing poetry, drama, film, music, caricature and literature. Inclusion of this activism in art adds colour to a narrative based so centrally around the dark subject at the heart of the investigation: the intolerable treatment of Aboriginal peoples that these activists were determined to change. The activism occurred during an exceptional period of Australian political history, when union power was at its height, and passionate communist endeavours endured amidst relentless pressures of the Cold War. The Aboriginal rights movement, buoyed by white activist support, grew steadily until the late 1960s when the Black Power model of Aboriginal-driven rights activism evolved, then prevailed.
This study about three campaigns, in different regions of Australia across a time-span of nearly forty years, presents a compelling longitudinal examination of left-wing activism for Aboriginal rights. Activists established vital networks and mechanisms of support and exposure for Aboriginal people so adversely affected by the actions of pastoralists, governments and officials. Evidence presented in the thesis indicates that motivation for such ardent support emanated, in large part, from basic humanitarian desire to better others’ lives.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Wilson, DM
Keywords: Aboriginal rights, Australia, 1946-1972, communists, unionists
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Copyright 2013 the Author

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