Throughout the history of Australia, Aboriginal people have faced large amounts of discrimination in society and have not had equal opportunities. Between 1910 and 1970, Aboriginal children were removed from their families by federal and state governments and were forced to adopt a white culture to rid Australia or Aboriginal people. The US Civil Rights movement (1955- 1968), led by Martin Luther King Jr and other civil rights activists such as Rosa Parks, had a massive influence on Australian activism to seek equality for the Aboriginal people of their country. This wave of civil rights activism resulted in important changes for Aboriginal people, allowing them to gain their rights and freedoms to become a bigger part of Australian societies and be involved in the decisions made for their country. Despite all the successful changes for Aboriginal people and their rights, inequalities still exist, and further changes need to be made to achieve true equality.
During the 1950s and 60s, many significant events occurred in the US in an attempt to achieve equality for African-American citizens. Rosa Parks, who refused to give her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus, which led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, was a civil rights activist in America. This was a protest against segregation and racial discrimination on busses and trains in Montgomery. Martin Luther King Jr was a leader of the American civil rights movement and organised the March on Washington in 1963, which was a protest against racial discrimination and was supportive of civil rights and freedoms. Martin Luther King Jr gave a speech called “I Have a Dream” which was a call to end racism in America. One of the most famous quotes of this speech was, “I still have a dream, a dream deeply rooted in the American dream – one day this nation will rise up and live up to its creed, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” The civil rights activists in America made many significant changes for African-American people, which motivated Australians to do the same.
After seeing the civil rights activism in America, Australians started to recognise the discrimination that Aboriginal people were facing, and civil rights activism began to rise in Australia. Since British colonisation, Australian land was declared “Terra Nullius”, meaning the land belonged to no one, this meant that Aboriginal people had lost their right to own Australian land. Organised by Charles Perkins, an Aboriginal student, On February 12, 1965, a group of university students who were inspired by the American Freedom Rides did a tour of multiple towns to see firsthand the conditions that Aboriginal people were living in. The students were shocked upon arriving in the towns as they found that the Aboriginal people were barred from pubs, public swimming pools, cafes and were rejected service in many shops and bars. During this time, civil rights activists in Australia became more motivated to seek equality for Aboriginal people as a result of the US Civil Rights Movement.
Multiple events occurred after the US Civil Rights movement to achieve equality for Aboriginal people in Australia, including the Mabo Decision and the Freedom Rides. In 1982, a group led by Eddie Mabo decided to challenge their land rights and began their legal claim for ownership of their traditional lands, they were initially rejected but after ten years, on June 3, 1992, the Mabo Decision was made. This decision meant that Aboriginal people had regained rights to their traditional land, which existed before British colonisation. Charles Perkins, a civil rights activist, became the first Aboriginal Australian to graduate from university in 1966 and in 1984 became the first Aboriginal Australian to be the Secretary of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. During the Freedom Ride in 1965, Perkins motivated the Aboriginal people to stand up for their rights and freedoms, he tells them, “We are willing enough to stand here but you people have to do it from this week on. No one is going to stand up for you but yourselves. If you don’t do it now, your kids will be in the same position as you are when they grow up.” After the US Civil Rights movement, changes were made in Australia to achieve rights for Aboriginal people and civil rights activists became more motivated to reach their goals.
The US Civil Rights movement had a large impact on Australia and led to significant changes for Aboriginal people’s rights and freedoms. There have been multiple changes to the Australian constitution which contribute to equal rights. In a 1967 referendum, 90.77% of Australian citizens voted “YES” to allow the federal parliament to make laws concerning the rights and freedoms of Aboriginal people and to include their votes in federal elections and referendums. On February 13, 2008, Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd apologised to the stolen generation on behalf of the federal government, recognising their struggles. However, many were still upset that it took so long for this to happen. A young Aboriginal girl named Tazma stated, “I’m happy that our prime minister Kevin Rudd said sorry, then again I’m angry because it took so long for them to apologise to the Aboriginal people”. Racial discrimination in Australia has significantly decreased as a result of the civil rights activism in both America and Australia, however, there are still changes that need to be made to reach equality.
Throughout history, racism was and still is a major issue in societies. In the US, the Civil Rights movement had a significant impact on racial discrimination towards African-Americans, events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, inspired by Rosa Parks and the March on Washington organised by Martin Luther King Jr were just two examples of the many civil rights movements in America. These movements had an influence on Australia to reach equality for Aboriginal people. Eddie Mabo achieved land rights for the traditional owners of Australian land and Charles Perkins organised a freedom ride to expose the living conditions of Aboriginal people. Changes were made to the Australian constitution, giving more rights to Aboriginal Australians and allowing them to vote. These changes were influenced by the US Civil Rights movement, Australia has come very far in terms of achieving equality, however, there are still many issues surrounding this matter that need to be addressed.