Our Purpose: Wangka Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre aims to be recognised as a leading Aboriginal language and resource centre in Australia. By working with the old people of the Pilbara, we will use our expertise, knowledge and sensitivity to record and foster Aboriginal languages, culture and history. Thus, ensuring the young people remain strong in retaining their Aboriginal language, culture and history, ensuring cultural continuity. Click Here to View Our Strategic Plan for 2011
The languages of the Pilbara region are of the Pama-Nyungan type, Nyungic or South West Group. Click here for a larger map
Read our November Newsletter:
Cultural Awareness Training-Public sessions
Venue: Wangka Maya Conference Room. South Hedland.
Upcoming dates: Wed 16 January, Wed 23 January.
Wangka Maya Conference Room - Available for hire.
For more information and booking forms, visit our Conference Room page.
On the 27th of May 1967, the voters of Australia made dramatic history. On this date, a referendum was held to poll the voters’ opinion about changing racially discriminatory sections of the Australian Constitution. The result was an overwhelming 90.77 per cent vote in favour of these changes.
The Australian Constitution was written in 1900 at a time when Aboriginal people were openly discriminated against because of their race. Outdated colonial attitudes were evident in sections of the Constitution, but it took a further 67 years for these sections to be changed.
At the time of British settlement, Australia was considered to be uninhabited. Aboriginal people were thought to be part of the flora and fauna of the country, rather than human beings. Attitudes of white racial superiority existed and Aboriginal people’s rights did not exist under British law. Therefore the colonists believed they had the right to settle throughout Australia.
The settlers' racial equality and human rights attitudes were slow to develop and when the Australian Constitution was written, these old attitudes were still influencing Australian politics.
Two sections of the Australian Constitution were questioned in the 1967 Referendum. The first Section 51 was about whom the Commonwealth Government could make laws for. In the Constitution it stated the Commonwealth wouldn’t make laws for Aboriginal people, inferring that each state would. This meant that the Commonwealth laws didn’t apply to Aboriginal people. More importantly, this meant that Aboriginal people didn’t have rights under Commonwealth law that every other Australian had.
The second section of the Constitution to be changed was Section 127. This section stated who would be counted as people of the Australian Commonwealth. Before the changes of 1967, this section said that ‘aboriginal natives’ would not be counted. This section was changed so that Aboriginal people were counted as Australian citizens.
Many people lobbied for more than 10 years to get the discriminatory sections of the Australian Constitution changed.
Of the Australian voting public who turned up and voted, that day, 90.77 per cent voted in favour of the changes.
This was an overwhelming response to the Referendum questions. These changes were enacted by Parliament on the 10th of August 1967.
Prior to the 1967 Referendum, Western Australian Aboriginal people were controlled by the 1905 Aborigines Act. This Act gave the Chief Protector of Aborigines the powers of legal guardianship over all Aboriginal people to the age of 16 years. This power over-rode any parental legal rights as normally exists between child and parent. This meant the Chief Protector could remove Aboriginal children from their parents or family, as he saw fit. And he did. Children, particularly children of mixed descent, were removed from their parents in droves and placed in white foster homes, missions, orphanages, hostels etc. Almost all children were removed forcibly and with tragic results, the most evident being the children now coined the ‘Stolen Generation’; children who never found their way home and suffered enormous trauma and brutalisation as a result of this removal policy. Very often this brutalisation occurred at the very institutions where the children were placed. Aboriginal parents were often not told where their children were, names were changed or the children told that their parents were dead.
Aboriginal people over the age of 16 years were also controlled by the Chief Protector as they had to apply for marriage rights, did not have the right to move freely from reserves or missions, did not have property ownerships rights, had no human rights, were not citizens of Australia and so on.
In order to move from under the burden of the 1905 Aborigines Act, Aboriginal people had to gain Australian citizenship. Aboriginal people, under the Australian Constitution, were not considered to be Australian citizens and therefore, Australian citizenship was not automatic. If an Aboriginal person gained Australian citizenship, the 1905 Aborigines Act could no longer control them.
To gain this citizenship, these people had to complete an application for citizenship in which their ‘caste’ and the ‘caste’ of their parents was stated, they had to prove disassociation from Aboriginal people and culture, provide a photo and references as to their good character. This went before a board who decided if citizenship was approved. Once it was gained, the Chief Protector of Aborigines could remove it at any time.
In 1967, the fact that more than 9 out of 10 Australians wanted the Constitution changed showed that Australians wanted racial discrimination stamped out. It is important to commemorate this event because it was a clear case of democracy at work, people power, and a vote against racial discrimination.