‘Aborigines & Activism’: an alternative view of the ’60s

Published 20 August 2008

A new book by a UNE historian explores Australia’s cultural evolution in the 1960s in the context of its Indigenous people.

Dr Jennifer Clark (pictured here) said her book – Aborigines & Activism: Race, Aborigines & the Coming of the Sixties to Australia – presented “an alternative interpretation of the 1960s”.

“It encourages broader thinking about this period,” she said. “It goes beyond the stereotypical perceptions: that the ‘60s was all about hippies and student protests. There was much more than that: it was the period when people began to question – and to consider liberating themselves from – old, conservative ideals.”

“When you look at the beginnings of Aboriginal activism,” she explained, “you see that many of the issues in those early stirrings were later identified with the anti-war movement, for example. What I’m suggesting through this book is that Indigenous Australians and their supporters were responsible for a lot of the changes that we might see as the ’60s phenomenon – and were involved in that well before the popular stereotypes of the ’60s emerged.

“The story of the coming of the ’60s to Australia is the story of ‘Aborigines and activism’.”

Dr Clark, a Senior Lecturer In UNE’s School of Humanities, said that a lot of her research for Aborigines & Activism had been undertaken in archives in Canberra and various libraries around Australia. “We can over-localise our perspective in this kind of analysis,” she said. “Aborigines & Activism went beyond local boundaries and required a national approach.”

The book’s publisher, the University of Western Australia Press, says Aborigines & Activism is “an engaging study of the stories of racial awakening in Australia that marked the coming of the ‘wind of change’.

“Through rigorous research, the author shows how supporters of Indigenous Australians and their struggles for equality pushed Australia into the ’60s – literally and figuratively. The book also puts the Australian experience of the ’60s into an international perspective.”

Dr Clark said that, although it was intended mainly for students and those interested in the 1960s, Aborigines & Activism would also be of interest to anyone seeking to understand how our society became what it is today, while its holistic (or “big picture”) view of Aboriginal activism would interest Indigenous Australians. “Although Indigenous communities have a very strong sense of their own local heritage, the 1960s period – on a national level – is also important,” she said. “It was ‘Aborigines and activism’ in the 1960s that resulted in the sense of identity as Indigenous Australians that exists today.”