26 January 1938, Australian Hall, Sydney, Australia
Jack Patten was the President of the Aborigines Progressive Association. For this historic protest event, he wore a dark suit and cut the figure or a huge League footballer. But he was a brilliant speaker, one of the best of his era.
On this day the white people are rejoicing, but we, as Aborigines, have no reason to rejoice on Australia’s 150th birthday. Our purpose in meeting today is to bring home to the white people of Australia the frightful conditions in which the native Aborigines of this continent live. This land belonged to our forefathers 150 years ago, but today we are pushed further and further into the background. The Aborigines Progressive Association has been formed to put before the white people the fact that Aborigines throughout Australia are literally being starved to death.
We refuse to be pushed into the background. We have decided to make ourselves heard. White men pretend that the Australian Aboriginal is a low type, who cannot be bettered. Our reply to that is, ‘Give us the chance!’ We do not wish to be left behind in Australia’s march to progress. We ask for full citizen rights including old-age pensions, maternity bonus, relief work when unemployed, and the right to a full Australian education for our children. We do not wish to be herded like cattle and treated as a special class.
As regards the Aborigines Protection Board of NSW, white people in the cities do not realise the terrible conditions of slavery under which our people live in the outback districts. I have unanswerable evidence that women of our race are forced to work in return for rations, without other payment.
Is this not slavery?
Do white Australians realise that there is actual slavery in this fair, progressive Commonwealth?
Yet such is the case. We are looking in vain for white people to help us by charity.
We must do something ourselves to draw public attention to our plight. This is why this Conference is held, to discuss ways and means of arousing the conscience of White Australians, who have us in their power, but have hitherto refused to help us.
Our children on the Government stations are badly fed and poorly educated. The result is that when they go out into life, they feel inferior to white people.
This is not a matter of race, this is a matter of education and opportunity.
This is why we ask for a better education and better opportunity for our people.
We say that it is a disgrace to Australia’s name that our people should be handicapped by undernourishment and poor education, and then blamed for being backward.
We do not trust the present Aborigines Protection Board and that why we ask for its abolition. [applause]
Incompetent teachers are provided on the Government stations. This is the greatest handicap put on us. We have had 150 years of white men looking after us, and the result is, our people are being exterminated.
The reason why this Conference is called today is that the Aborigines themselves may discuss their problems and try to bring before the notice of the public and of parliament what our grievance is, and how it may be remedied.
We ask for ordinary citizen rights, and full equality with white Australians. [moved resolution]