How did the Civil Right Movement in the U.S. inspire activism in Australia?
In the 1950s, Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islands in Australia began to fight for civil rights. At that time, some states had laws that excluded Aborigines from citizenship, and other state laws decreed where they could live, where they could go, and who they could marry. Some Aborigines were not even the legal guardians of their children, and local policemen decided on their wages and paid them. The Aborigines' and Torres Strait Islanders' campaign for civil rights began when the 1956 report in the Western Australian Parliament on the state of the Aboriginal people in the Warburton Ranges was tabled. The press leaked the results of the report, which showed malnutrition, disease, and health problems among the Aborigines. In addition, the Australian desert had been used to test British nuclear weapons. In response to these conditions, activists launched a campaign to force the government to improve conditions for Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders.
The campaign included the efforts of the Aborigines Advancement League with the work of figures such as Sir Douglas Nicholls, who would go on to become the first Aboriginal person to hold vice-regal office. Activists in the movement, such as Charles Perkins (who was the first Aboriginal person to graduate from a university in Australia) implemented tactics that he borrowed from the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. He led a Freedom Ride in 1965 though New South Wales to protest the ways Aboriginal people were treated and the discrimination they faced in education, housing, and healthcare. These rides were inspired by the U.S. Freedom Rides in 1961. He also tried to get into a swimming pool that barred Aborigines, a tactic also used by the American Civil Rights Movement. Finally, in 1967, a referendum was held that resulted in changing the Australian constitution, revoking the right of the government to legislate for Aborigines as a group and thereby recognizing them as citizens and giving them voting rights.