Reconciliation, referendum and Mabo

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Reconciliation Week commemorates two important events in Australian history: the 1967 Referendum decision and the historic Mabo case.

Drop in to the Mediatheque this week to explore Aboriginal Australian history with a free program of thought-provoking and celebratory documentaries.

Please note: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visitors should be aware that some footage in this collection contains images, voices and names of deceased persons.

Australian Mediatheque, daily 12pm-5pm from 29th May

Films in the program

Mabo: The Life of an Island Man  
Trevor Graham (Dir, Writer), 90mins, 1997, Australia

Filmmaker Trevor Graham documented the only film record of the Mabo proceedings in 1989 in his film "Land Bilong islanders" and in the process established a friendship with Eddie Koiki Mabo. This film documents the extraordinary life of a man so passionate about his family and home that he fought an entire nation and its legal system. Sadly, he died five months before the High Court upheld his claim for "Native Title". This documentary won an AFI award in 1997.

This Day Tonight: The 1967 Referendum 
Gerald Lyons (Reporter), ABC, 30mins, 1967, Australia 

Traditionally Australian people have voted 'No' to changes to the Constitution. What made the 1967 Referendum so historically significant is the resounding approval of two amendments intended to benefit Australia's Indigenous population. This section of the Referendum was broken up into two parts, the first concerning what was called the 'race powers' of the Federal Government, allowing them to create laws to specifically benefit Indigenous people. The second was to delete the part of the constitution that stated that Aboriginal natives should not be counted when tallying the population, more directly affecting representation in parliament and the allocation of Commonwealth grants. These amendments were passed with an overall 'Yes' vote of over 90%.

'This Day Tonight' focuses on certain pockets of the community who had overall voted 'No' to this part of the Referendum. This provides a glimpse of some of the prevailing attitudes of the time regarding the Indigenous population. The Referendum is set against a background of increased awareness of Aboriginal issues and amid demands by the Indigenous population for equal rights and recognition. The issues regarding improving living conditions for Aboriginal Australians is also discussed and considered. The second part of the Referendum that was rejected by the Australian people was pertaining to what was called the 'Nexus', that would essentially link the number of representatives in each house of the Australian Federal Parliament. In looking at how people voted on the 'Nexus' issue, again a range of opinions were covered, providing an insight to attitudes towards politicians as well as why the amendment was rejected. Also included in this program are the results of a student survey conducted by Swinburne Institute of Technology and some of the highlights of the 14th Annual Sydney Film Festival.

Don Featherstone (Director), ABC, 30mins, 1986, Australia

'BabaKiueria' takes a satirical look at black-white relations in late twentieth century Australia, with a comic depiction of a racial role reversal. In documentary (or 'mockumentary') style, the film's presenter investigates white lives in the fictitious land of 'BabaKiueria' ('Barbeque Area'), where white people are a minority, living under black laws and suffering from discriminatory practices and attitudes held by the black majority. Written by Geoffrey Atherden ('Mother and Son', 'Grass Roots'), the film was awarded a United Nations Media Peace Prize in 1987. Stars Michelle Torres, Bob Maza, Kevin Smith, Cecily Polson, Tony Barry.

Ningla A-Na [long version] 
Alessandro Cavadini (Prod/Dir), 70mins, 1972, Australia 

For the first time in 200 years of white domination, Aboriginal people confronted the government at a national level – and in the words of poet, author and campaigner for Indigenous land rights Roberta "Bobbi" Sykes, achieved "a political victory". Framed within an international human rights context, 'Ningla A-Na' (Hungry for Land) uses television news coverage of the clash between  protesters and police at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1972 to great effect, showing how the event was portrayed both nationally and internationally. Interviews with Dr Fred Hollows, Shirley Smith (Mum Shirl), Bob Maza, Carol Johnson and Paul Coe contextualise the issues advocated by the Black movement. This film gives voice to the most talented and effective Indigenous activists in the country at the time. Source: Australian Screen.

The Real Australians. Gulpilil: Man of Two Worlds 
Rod Kinnear (Director), 48mins, 1979, Australia (pictured)

Documents the film career of David Gulpilil (to 1979), taking in various travels, awards and his success as an actor in such films as 'Walkabout' and 'Storm Boy'. Includes footage excerpts of of Gulpilil undertaking traditional Aboriginal work such as spear making and hunting. Also shows footage of Gulpilil in a music studio, playing didgeridoo with a band, and teaching school children how to play the didgeridoo.

Two Laws  
Alessandro Cavadini & Carolyn Strachan (Prods./Dirs), 120mins, 1981, Australia

An innovative film on the Borroloola people's struggle for the recognition of Aboriginal law. Aborigines actively collaborated with the filmmakers in determining the form of the film which is in four parts. "Police times" is a dramatic re-enactment of white oppression in the 1930s. "Welfare times" A re-enactment of life under the welfare system of the 1950s. In "Struggle for our land" Aboriginal attachment to the land is described and the first hearing of the Borroloola land claim is also re-enacted. "Living with two laws" is concerned with the movement back to traditional land and the setting up of cattle out-stations.

The Fair go: winning the 1967 referendum 
Pat Laughren (Prod./Dir), 57mins, 1999, Australia

This documentary commemorates the 10 year campaign that won an unprecedented 90.77% Yes vote in the 1967 Referendum about Indigenous citizenship. Until that referendum the people of the oldest civilisation in the world were not counted as citizens in their own land. Told through personal interviews and rare archival footage, this film details the efforts of the people who helped change the Constitution. Narrated by Deborah Mailman.

Forgotten people
Barry Merton (Director), 9mins, 1967, Australia

Shows the work of the Aborigines Advancement League particularly of Pastor Doug Nicholls and Bill Onus. They visit the settlements of Rumbaland, Robinvale and Dareton, showing the primitive conditions in which the aborigines are forced to live. Government housing is not provided at a sufficient rate. This film stresses the need for more positive action. Sponsored by the Aborigines Advancement League (Victoria) in the wake of the 1967 Referendum, and featuring two of the League's founding members in Nicholls and Onus.

Lousy little sixpence 
Alec Morgan (Director), 55mins, 1983, Australia

In 1909 the N.S.W. Aborigines Protection Board planned to break up Aboriginal communities by forcibly removing children and hiring them out to white "masters". Archival film footage, photographs and the memories of Aboriginal elders weave a moving account of the lives of Aboriginal people and their struggle in the 1930s against the Aborigines Protection Board. Appearing in the film: Margaret Tucker, Bill Reid, Geraldine Briggs, Flo Caldwell, Violet Shea. Narrated by Chicka Dixon.

This Mediatheque program is part of Federation Square WE|HERE|NOW, a week-long program of public events and activities to commemorate these dates and Reconciliation Week at Fed Square.