THERE will be echoes of 1967 in Parliament House on Wednesday when both sides of politics pass legislation that will give momentum to the push to recognise the first Australians in the nation’s founding document.
Shirley Peisley was 26 when she pinned badges on the lapels of politicians in support of modest but hugely symbolic constitutional change. On Wednesday she will watch as a new indigenous generation does the same in support of something more ambitious.
Back then, Ms Peisley was a woman in awe, inspired by the leadership and example of Lowitja O’Donoghue, who organised her trip from Adelaide to a planning meeting for the 1967 referendum campaign. Like most of the activists, they stayed at Brassey Hotel, then called Brassey Hostel. ”Anyone who had a room – and some of us did – would have swags all over the floor,” Professor O’Donoghue recalls. ”The dining room was full of people who weren’t guests. It was amazing how they put up with us.”
Lowitja O’Donoghue and Shirley Peisley on Tuesday. Photo: Andrew Meares
When they weren’t talking about the struggle or singing We Shall Overcome and other anthems of the American civil rights movement, Professor O’Donoghue recalls some of the activists throwing boomerangs on the vacant land opposite.
This week, the two women are back in the same digs, and hoping that the unity, energy and optimism that abounded almost half a century ago will be replicated – and help transform the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The 1967 referendum resulted in indigenous Australians being counted in the census and gave the national government the power to make laws for their benefit, but only conferred what Noel Pearson described as a ”neutral kind of citizenship”.