Please note: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, voices or names of deceased persons in photographs, film, audio recordings or printed material.

Some material may contain terms that reflect authors’ views, or those of the period in which the item was written or recorded, but may not be considered appropriate today. These views are not necessarily the views of AIATSIS. While the information may not reflect current understanding, it is provided in an historical context.


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Recognition in the Australian Constitution

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the first peoples of Australia but are still not formally recognised under Australia’s Constitution. Recognition can help define an Australia that is inclusive — acknowledging the previous and continuing existence of the oldest culture in the world.

The movement towards constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians embodies the enduring spirit of reconciliation across the country. It is the next step towards Australia’s maturity as a nation and is essential to ensure the Constitution accurately reflects what it means to be an Australian today.

All Australians know that our unique Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures enrich this nation, and are crucial to our distinctive national identity. When we write that chapter in to the Australian Constitution, it will formally become part of the shared story of every Australian and all of us will be connected with tens of thousands of years of history.

The Australian Government has appointed a Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to finalise the words that would form the amendment to the Constitution. It is chaired by the two Indigenous members of the Commonwealth Parliament, with Mr Ken Wyatt MP as the Chair and Senator Nova Peris as the Deputy Chair.

The Joint Select Committee released a progress report in October 2014, outlining proposed recommendations of amendments.

Recognise is the people’s movement to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution. 

References and further reading



Image caption list

The Need for Change

Vote Yes for Aboriginal Rights poster – authorised by Joe McGinness. Source: digitised by AIATSIS Library

‘Aboriginal natives shall not be counted’

Front cover of Our Aim, October 1967. Source: digitised by AIATSIS Library

William Cooper. Source: AIATSIS Audiovisual Archives - JACKOMOS.A06.BW–N04416_34A

’26 January 1938. Australia Hall, Sydney, NSW. President John Patten at Aboriginal meeting organised by the Aborigines Protection Association’ (photo Man Magazine). Source:  AIATSIS Audiovisual Archives - HORNER.JA3.BW–N04642_14

‘Aboriginal people will live as white Australians’

Group of children and teachers gathered around a flag pole saluting the Union Jack. Source: AIATSIS Pictorial Collection - READ.H03.DF–D00016597

Front cover of Dawn, December 1952. Source: digitised by AIATSIS Library

‘The eyes of the world are upon us’

‘Yes’ for Aborigines FCAATSI poster – authorised by Faith Bandler

He, too, is an Australian! Poster. Source: digitised by AIATSIS Library

FCAATSI badge. Source: digitised by AIATSIS Library

Front cover of Dawn, January 1964. Source: digitised by AIATSIS Library

Public meeting to launch a National Petition for a Federal Referendum poster – authorised by Jack Horner. Source: FCAATSI

Yirrkala Bark Petition – Source: Parliament House, reproduced with permission from Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre

Students involved in the demonstration against discrimination of Aboriginal people in Walgett, NSW, 1967.Photograph reproduced with permission of Wendy Watson-Ekstein (nee Golding) and supplied by Ann Curthoys.

FCAATSI delegation meeting with Prime Minister Menzies in September 1963. Source: Reproduced courtesy of The Canberra Times

Striking Gurindji stockmen and their families with Dexter Daniels in 1966. Source: Photograph courtesy Brian Manning and the Kalkaringi/Daguragu Freedom Day website.

Harold Holt with Aboriginal delegates, 1967. Source: National Archives of Australia - A1200, L62232

The Nation Responds

Aboriginal man reads names of candidates on the ballot paper during nation-wide National Aboriginal Consultative Council elections, 1973. Source: National Film and Sound Archive 481134 ICAM Series. ABC Library Sales

How States Voted. Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 29 May 1967. Reproduced courtesy Fairfax Media.

Two women at polling booth holding poster. Source: National Film and Sound Archive 481134 ICAM Series. ABC Library Sales.

Newspaper montage: 90 Per Cent Yes To Aborigines, Source: The Age, 29 May 1967 reproduced courtesy Fairfax Media; Now action is needed for the Aborigines by Kim Beazley MP, Source: reproduced courtesy The Canberra Times ; Young Supporter on the job, Source: The Sun, Melbourne, 27 May 1967, News Limited.

The Campaigners

‘My  mother mother’s sister, Aunt Celia (worker for Aboriginal advancement) with Granny Monsell campaigning for a yes vote in referendum’. Source:  AIATSIS Audiovisual Archives - BOND.J01.BW–N04120_05

Vote Yes for Aboriginal citizenship rights. Source: Herbert McClintock

Trade unionists… poster, Source: Trades & Labor Council advertisement 1967

‘1967, Martin Place, Sydney, NSW. Faith Bandler with daughter Lilon Bandler, Rev. George Garnsey (Chaplin Sydney University) and unknown university student at demonstration for referendum’. Source: AIATSIS Audiovisual Archives - HORNER.JA1.BW-N04612_12

Newspaper montage: Archbishop pleads for yes vote on Aboriginals, Source: The Australian, 9 May 1967, News Limited; Bishop: Treat Aborigines As Individuals, Source: West Australian, 12 May 1967, Reproduced courtesy The West Australian; Churches urge “yes” vote on aborigines, Source: The Courier, 24 May 1967, Reproduced courtesy The Courier, Ballarat; Silent Demonstration, Source: The Advocate, Melbourne, 11 May 1967; Call for ‘Yes’ in aboriginal poll, Source: Digitised by AIATSIS Library.


AIATSIS acknowledges the traditional owners of country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, culture and community.

We pay our respects to elders past and present.