Were they that bad? #5 – 1967 Referendum – Part 2 (Sect 127)

Following on from my previous post, let’s skip the step of again proving that the existence of Section 127 of the Constitution (in it’s original form) is being sold as proof of Australia’s anti-aboriginal history.

Australians Together – The 1967 Referendum

The charges against it are varied:

First Nations people were ‘dying out’ and, hence, would soon cease to be a factor in questions of representation, First Nations people weren’t intellectually worthy of a place in the political system, and/or First Nations people weren’t considered human.

The truth is, there were a number of factors at play when it comes to this inclusion in the constitution, and they had precious little to do with demeaning aboriginals, and far more to do with:

  1. The development of an appropriate representational electoral system and the associated quotas,
  2. State financial considerations (of course), and
  3. The physical practicalities of accurately determining the population for such a system.

Let’s break this down:

Representational Government, Quota and Financial Considerations

I think this website puts it as well as I could:

Section 127 meant that when the population of the Commonwealth, of a state or territory is counted, Aboriginal people are not included.

Until well into the early 1960s politicians feared that by counting Indigenous people this would affect the quota that decided the number of seats a state could hold in parliament. Hence the greater the number of Aboriginal people within a state, the greater the number of seats. This, it was argued, would give advantage to states with a great number of Aboriginal people and it was feared that Western Australia and Queensland could lose a seat.

The white Australian population at that time was about 3.7 million; the Aboriginal population can only be estimated to around 50,000 to 60,000. Newspaper sources of the early 1960s considered it “a mildly entertaining historical oddity” trying to count Aboriginal people on one day, and an impossible task to do.

Creative Spirits – Australian 1967 Referendum

The SBS itself, puts the cherry on top of this point:

“Each colony had a capitation fee — I think it was a pound a head, but it was a certain sum for every person — to get the Commonwealth going, because they didn’t have any money until they could start raising taxes. And, at Federation, South Australia included the Northern Territory. So, if you said, ‘We will add the Aboriginal population to the white population,’ that was going to hit South Australia in the hip pocket** big-time, and, I’m sorry to say, that was the end of that conversation.”

SBS – Myths persist about the 1967 referendum


To address the practicality issue, I need do no more than revisit the flyers distributed during the 1967 Referendum campaign. I think it is eminently sensible in what it says on the reverse side:

National Archives of Australia

Given the expanse of Australia, and the transport means available in 1897, you’d be hard pressed to argue against this. This commonsense reasoning around Section 127 seems to have been lost to the tides of time.

Still not convinced?

Ok, let’s go to a transcript of the Constitutional Debates to get a feel for the issues at play, none of which remotely resemble the alleged racism.

1897 Australasian Federation Conference – TUESDAY, APRIL 20, 1897

The irony of this exchange is that it clearly highlights that:

  1. The Clause was not designed to rob Aboriginals of their vote, and nor did it,
  2. The arithmetic wasn’t such as to warrant an attempt to count the entire aboriginal population of Australia (26,000 to affect one electorate),
  3. In 1897, it was well understood that Aboriginals were actually voting and participating in the political system.
  4. Aboriginals were actively encouraged to vote by the founders.
  5. The focus was on the implications to South Australia’s financial obligations.

17 thoughts on “Were they that bad? #5 – 1967 Referendum – Part 2 (Sect 127)”

  1. Many, many thanks for your forensic work Mater. I sincerely hope that your voice (no pun intended) and those of the good folk at Quadrant are spread far and wide for thinking people to digest.

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  2. Given the expanse of Australia, and the transport means available in 1897, you’d be hard pressed to argue against this. This commonsense reasoning around Section 127 seems to have been lost to the tides of time.

    My understanding has always been that, at the time the Constitution was drawn up, Western Australia and Queensland still had populations of nomadic Aborigines, and Section 127 was designed to prevent the manipulation of those populations to gain extra funding, and extra seating in the Lower House.

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  3. Mater

    My family history includes co-operative relationships with Australians since at least 1860 and to think they were not considered as human actually sickens me.

    Personally, I was asked by an actual elder to sit in at the original tent embassy outside the old Parliament House and I was revolted by the crap I heard being spoken to “elders” outside from lieberals and laborious representatives, each trying to outdo each other.

    This whole crap is just to promote themselves on the foul UN stage.

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  4. From the SBS link

    The Aboriginal right to vote in most Australian states actually dated back legally to the 1850s, long before Federation.

    Pat Stretton points out every state but Queensland and Western Australia allowed all male British subjects to vote.

    That included Aboriginal men, and, in 1895, when South Australia gave women the right to vote, Aboriginal women shared that right.

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  5. Will someone please explain to me how small groups of nomadic primitive people can be defined as a nation.

    Small groups of primitive, nomadic people, without so much as a written language?

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  6. My family history includes co-operative relationships with Australians since at least 1860 and to think they were not considered as human actually sickens me.

    My ancestor was trying to provide Aboriginal children an education (studying alongside white kids), as far back as 1835, in Tasmania.

    This fact doesn’t gel with the narrative either.


    It’s funny how the same arguments from the do-gooders persist, even to today.

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  7. From my link above:

    “It is of course a most desirable thing that these poor children should be properly instructed, for they have the intellectual faculty as strong as a European, and at first sight we were ready to applaud the committee for adopting apparently so benevolent a measure. It is delightful to a man of feeling to see these 14 little black children intermixed and taught in classes with the other little orphans in that noble institution; and were they all orphans and without another friend or relation to care for them, our satisfaction would be unmixed.”

    Remember, this is 1835. 32 years after the first settlement in Tasmania. Quite ‘enlightened’ thinking towards the Aboriginals, one would think, and certainly not in keeping with the narrative that they were thought of as animals up until the 1967 referendum.

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  8. People tend to forget just how harsh an environment Australia really is and dismiss what the original pioneers actually did.

    People also tend to forget the load that was on some of those original pioneers – one mistake dealing with the Aborigines, and they, and their families paid with their lives.

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  9. Another off subject moment, Mater, but still important vis-à-vis the question of Aborigines as full citizens in this new, modern country.

    In her book, Australia’s Birthstain, Babette Smith shows how and why the concerted effort to cover up who our antecedents were – the convicts – was alive and robust into the latter decades of the 20th century.

    This is a quote from Babette Smith’s own site – which for some reason NewCat doesn’t like me to link to.

    Australia’s Birthstain rewrites the story of Australia’s convict foundations, revealing the involvement of British politicians and clergy in creating a birthstain that reached far beyond convict crimes. Its startling conclusion offers a fresh perspective on our past.

    While the descendants of convicts – and the convicts themselves – got on with making a life in the new land, there were those who never wanted them to become a full part of society.

    Unbelievably, this attitude extended forward into our own time as a way for those who had well and truly climbed up out of their families’ “criminal class” activities to be able to secrete those pasts and to retain their esteemed positions by attempting to deny their fellow countrymen access to the stories of their own histories.

    This use of controlling a narrative is not new therefore. To my way of thinking, the shift of focus to the supposed “degeneracy” of white Australians’ – still the convict stain – had become the self-serving question of an “illegitimate” nation by way of the question of Aboriginal disadvantage and “sovereignty” as the weapon.

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  10. Bar Beach Swimmer says:
    July 20, 2022 at 12:34 pm

    A good point BBS.

    All my antecedents came here as the eqivalent of 10pound Poms.

    Virtually squillions of acres to develop.

    Everyone talks about the transportation of people but no one talks the transportation of sheep, cattle and horses.

    It was a major logistical endeavour.

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  11. I am sure I’m wrong but at the time of “colonialism” there was about 400,000 nomadic Australians in existence, hunting for food.

    How many of their descendants now?

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  12. Mater,
    I’m just watching The Eureka Stockade, with Chips Rafferty and Peter Finch on GEM. Made in 1949, it depicts the struggle of the diggers on the Ballarat Goldfields for their rights.

    Scenes of goldfields life include small schools, which show young students, both white and black, learning their lessons together.

    With many different nationalities present, the story is of a new people to create a free and open country for all. Though the authorities will not accede to the demands of the diggers to be treated equally with the other sectors of the society, and consider them an illegitimate cohort in comparison, they themselves see their struggle for fair treatment and rights on the diggings as the beginning of a new story for the whole land under the new symbol of the Southern Cross.

    One could argue that the authorities’ attitude to Australians in some ways is not much different now as then. The current campaign to set up “The Voice” will undermine the right of all citizens to be treated equally and represented in parliament without difference. In my view, it’s just the latest way to remove the “convict class” from retaining their right to full and equal political participation in this country.

    Thanks, again, for this series of posts.

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  13. Scenes of goldfields life include small schools, which show young students, both white and black, learning their lessons together.

    I went to school in Western Australia in the early 1960’s. Probably one in five students in the class were indigenous. I’ve since been assured by a certain West Australian journalist that Aboriginal people were not allowed to send their children to school, at that time.

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