The 1967 Referendum: Race, power and the Australian Constitution

referendum cover

Bain Attwood

May, 2007
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$34.95 RRP incl. GST


On 27 May 1967 a remarkable event occurred. An overwhelming majority of electors voted in a national referendum to amend clauses of the Australian Constitution concerning Aboriginal people. Today it is commonly regarded as a turning point in the history of relations between Indigenous and white Australians. This was the historic moment when citizenship rights were granted — including the vote — and the Commonwealth at long last assumed responsibility for Aboriginal affairs. But the referendum did none of these things.

The 1967 Referendum explores the legal and political significance of the referendum and the long struggle by black and white Australians for constitutional change. It traces the emergence of a series of powerful narratives about the Australian Constitution and the status of Aborigines, revealing how and why the referendum campaign acquired so much significance, and has since become the subject of highly charged myth in contemporary Australia.

Attwood and Markus’s text is complemented by personal recollections of the campaign by a range of Indigenous people, historical documents and photographs.

Read the teachers' notes

Bain Attwood is an Associate Professor of History in the School of Historical Studies at Monash University and Adjunct Professor at the Australian National University’s Centre for Cross-Cultural Research.

Reviews and endorsements

'The aim of this excellent book is to clarify what the 1967 referendum really meant in legal terms, and also to provide a social and political context to the events leading up to and following the referendum. The book serves as a good overall history of the Aboriginal fight for full citizenship rights and constitutional reform. Included in the second section is a detailed and extensive collection of relevant primary source material, both written and oral, which would be invaluable for curriculum activities.'

— B Percival, Aboriginal Education K-12 Resource Guide, NSW Department of Education & Training, 2001

'Attwood and Markus have given … a dynamic case study of how the present rakes over the past to underpin its own aspirations - a confronting thought in its race-relations and power implications for the Australian Constitution.'

— Carol Fort, Journal of Australian Studies, June 2008

'The 1967 Referendum: Race Power and the Australian Constitution is essential reading for any student of Aboriginal policy in the 21st century in providing a concise but thorough analysis of the 1967 referendum. But is also important for highlighting wider issues. This book is a reminder of the views about Aboriginal people when the constitution was being framed in the late 19th century.'

— Thom Blake, The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, Vol. 37, December 2008

Last reviewed: 10 Jul 2020