Monash University
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The Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders : the politics of inter-racial coalition in Australia, 1958-1973

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posted on 2017-11-02, 03:04 authored by Sue Taffe
This thesis is a history of the Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement, later the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) during its years of coalition from 1958 to 1973. It is both a narrative of the organisation as no published history yet exists, and an analysis which seeks to understand the genesis of the organisation, the nature of the coalition which existed in the 1960s and the demise of inter-racial co-operation in the 1970s. In 1973 FCAATSI came under Indigenous control, essentially becoming an organisation for Aboriginal and Islander members, thus ending the black/white coalition which existed, tenuously, until then. The Federal Council was a coalition in a number of senses. It comprised people from the left of politics including members of theCommunist Party of Australia as well as active members of Christian churches. Although during the Cold War years of the 1960s Christians and communists often viewed each other with deep suspicion within the Federal Council they were, on the whole, able to work together. The 1960s were also years of racial coalition as FCAATSI members sang of 'black and white together' and gained inspiration from the civil rights campaigning in the United States. This coalition was, however, never one which could be taken for granted. Tensions, always present, erupted at a FCAATSI conference in 1970 and led to a split in the movement when those Indigenous members who no longer believed that a black/white coalition was the best vehicle for the changes they sought left the Federal Council. In the period from 1963 to 1970, however, the Federal Council provided opportunities for Indigenous people from all over the country to meet at annual conferences, to exchange views and to organise politically to advance their causes. FCAATSI conferences and meetings provided opportunities for Indigenous political activists to gain experience in pressure group politics necessary for later organising on a national scale. In analysing the Federal Council movement I have sought to understand the genesis of the national pressure group, the factors which help to explain its success during the 1960s when campaigns for equal wages, a referendum and land rights were waged, and its demise as a coalition in the early 1960s. I have considered FCAATSI's relationship with government, its response to government approaches as expressed, for example, in the assimilation policy which characterised the Liberal Country Party governments of the 1950s and 1960s. I have analysed the failure of the ruling clique in the early 1970s to respond to changing Indigenous desires for political autonomy within the organisation. The ascendancy of Labor to government in 1972 proved to be a catalyst for a change of leadership required by active Indigenous members at this time. My research into FCAATSI has been undertaken in the hope that this resulting thesis will provide information about a period when black and white activists did succeed in coalition in forwarding their joint goals. It is also written to further understanding about the processes of social change with regard to relationships between Indigenous and other Australian and to chart a small part of the longer journey taken by some non-Indigenous Australian towards addressing long-standing and serious injustices experienced by Aboriginal and Islander Australians.


Principal supervisor

Andrew Markus

Additional supervisor 1

Marian Quartly

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

School of Historical Studies


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Arts