A fairly conventional list in some respects, and I’ve ignored the basic settlement stuff:

  • 1854: Eureka Stockade. A truer symbolic moment of founding Australian modern identity than Gallipoli, but one that for some odd reason our political leaders prefer to forget.
  • 1856: ‘Eight hour day’ campaign begins fight for rights eventually granted to all workers in 1948. And still being fought for today by many workers grappling with AWAs.
  • 1902: Australian women became the second in the world to get the vote. Leading the way again (with NZ).
  • 1907: The “Harvester Judgement” enshrines the principle of a basic wage. Another historic reform now being compromised.
  • 1962: Aborigines granted the right to enrol and vote in federal elections. It took international concern about Australia’s treatment of its indigenous population, and the United Nations, to get things moving.
  • 1966: The Gurindji walk-off at Wave Hill station. “Black Power”, Australian style.
  • 1966-1972: White Australia Policy relaxed then abandoned. The nation-defining legislation is given the boot at last, even if its symbolic legacy would prove more ingrained.
  • 1967: An historic majority (80.8%) of the Australian population vote “yes” in a referendum to end constitutional discrimination against Aborigines that meant they weren’t officially counted as members of the Australian community. A moment of national epiphany that showed what could be done with decent leadership.
  • 1972-75: Election then dismissal of Whitlam government. In three short years, the modernisation of Australia, then the breaking of its heart (and the radicalisation of a generation).
  • 1992: The doctrine of “terra nullius”, by which European occupation of Australia was ratified on the grounds that the land was empty and belonged to no-one before white settlement, ruled invalid by the High Court. The most important symbolic stroke of all, that opened up the way for either enlightened postcolonial democracy (if we were brave and well led), or the cruellest backlash of all (if not).

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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