The Success of Civil Rights Activism in Australia

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For generations, Indigenous Australians have had to endure acts of discrimination, prejudice and injustice. Since the arrival of European settlers in 1788, traditional customs and way of life for Indigenous Australians have been majorly altered. When Australian colonies federated in 1901, public policy revolved around the concepts of segregation and assimilation. The inhumane treatment of the Aboriginal people was heavily influenced by the assumption that they were inferior to the Europeans. When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was ratified in 1948, it constructed the beginning and encouragement of access of basic human rights for those who had been denied of them. The struggle of the American Civil Rights Movement during the 1960’s sparked influence for civil rights activism within Australia. This influence of activism resulted in major changes in the representation, civil and land rights of Indigenous Australians with great success. However, there are still challenges and inequalities that are yet to be addressed and efforts that can be continued to be made in order to tackle these current inequalities.

After the ratification of the UDHR, the fight for civil rights began. In America, the fight for the civil rights of the African American community gained global attention and would later influence civil rights activism within Australian for Indigenous Australians. After WWII segregation was ruled out in by the US Supreme court, however, southern states resisted against the ruling. On December 1st, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks, a civil rights activist, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on the bus. Subsequently, Parks’ refusal to give up her seat got her arrested. Her arrest resulted in a 381-day boycott of the Montgomery bus service and the boycott ended as a result of the US supreme ordering the end of segregation of black and white passengers on the bus services within Montgomery. The victory obtained from the boycott earned more support and inspired further activism towards ending segregation in America. 

Many protests and events followed after the Montgomery bus service boycott, such as the Little Rock Nine (1957), The Freedom Riders (1961), and the Civil Rights Act of 1957. A major figure that contributed to the further success of the civil rights movement in America was Martin Luther King Jnr. King’s engagement in civil rights had inspired protests and paved way to the success of the civil rights movement of America. On 28th August 1963, King led a protest with 250 000 demonstrators participating in the ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom”. It was during this protest that he delivered his influential “I have a dream speech.”. In his speech King stated, “…I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.””. As a result of the major success of the American Civil rights movement, activism that had begun in Australia on a minor scale would increase significantly to bring many great changes to the policies existing at the time.

The fights for civil rights for African Americans had a profound influence on activism in Australia. Activism for civil rights in Australia began when the sesquicentenary of British settlement took place in 1938, this day was referred to as the “Day of Mourning and Protest”. The Australian Aborigines League and the Aborigines Progressive association planned a protest march for civil rights from the Sydney town hall. This was the first effective indigenous civil rights gathering in Australian history. When the American Civil Rights gained worldwide media coverage, the success of the movement encouraged Australia to take further action to stop segregation and for the civil rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Similarly, the Freedom Riders of Australia followed in the footsteps of the Freedom riders in America influenced by their success. 

The freedom riders were a group known as the Student Action for Aborigines who toured regional New South Wales as a protest against segregation. The tour in February 1965 as a fact-finding trip so students could witness the horrible living conditions for Aboriginal people but turned into a genuine protest to fight against segregation. The group was led by the late Charles Perkins, who was one of the only two Aboriginal students of the university. The protest brought attention to the shocking living conditions that Indigenous Australians had endured outside of the towns that were toured. Anyone belonging in the Aboriginal community were constantly denied services in shops, hotels, swimming pools, cafes etc. To aid with ending the segregation, the students would protest against the racial discrimination present at the towns and ensured there was media coverage of the violent responses on news broadcasts. 

The footage and evidence of harsh treatment towards Aboriginal people was broadcasted and exposed the racism present within the country. People in urban areas were shocked and the national and international media coverage of the protest sparked an influx of support for better treatment for the Indigenous community. The influx of support would develop a movement for further change and political success in public movements to promote the end of racial discrimination. Thus, the success of the American Civil Rights encouraged the further development of methods of successful activism within Australia.

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The Success of Civil Rights Activism in Australia. (2021, Dec 29). Retrieved July 22, 2024 , from

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