Saturday marked the 50th anniversary of the referendum vote that gave the Commonwealth the power, as well as an obligation and a mandate, to implement laws to benefit Aboriginal people.
That referendum also resulted in our first peoples being counted in the national census for the first time.
Until then only the states could enact legislation directly affecting Aboriginals. This manifested itself in racially discriminatory legislation not far removed from laws in apartheid South Africa and parts of the American South.
Racist laws included, but were not limited to, restrictions on travel, prohibitions on alcohol consumption, controls over cultural observances and unfair labour regulations that saw Aboriginal workers paid much less for the same labour than a white worker would receive.
Segregation was also widespread, especially in many country towns, with open, but unspoken, prohibitions on Aboriginals attending picture theatres, swimming pools and even cafes and some shops.
While the passage of the referendum did not, in itself, overturn these laws and practices it gave the Federal Government the power to act.
Its' first widespread application came in 1975 when the Whitlam Government enacted the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (Queensland Discriminatory Laws) Act which overrode the odious legislation that had been enacted by that state.
The Whitlam Government also established schemes to help Aboriginals obtain housing, education and access to legal services. None of this could have happened without the strong "yes" vote of eight years before.
Given half a century has passed since 90.77 per cent of the electorate voted to give Aboriginals the same recognition as the rest of the population and, at the same time, empowered the Federal Government to take positive steps to break cycles of poverty, enforced ignorance and underemployment it is sad racism is back as a major political force.
It is fair to ask whether or not, given recent State and Federal election outcomes and the divisive language being used by politicians from both minor and major right wing political parties, the 1967 referendum question would get up if it was put to the people today.
Only a brave soul would bet on a "yes" vote above 90 per cent.
This is remarkable given Australia in 2017 is much more multicultural, diverse and arguably politically aware than the monocultural "white Australia" of 1967.
While some of our parents and grandparents generation held views on race that are wildly politically incorrect by today's standards, they were committed to the "fair go".
When the question was put to them 5,183,113 voters agreed it was time to give Aboriginals that fair go. Only 527,000 voted against.
Our question is not entirely academic. The First Nations Convention at Uluru has been considering forms of constitutional recognition for indigenous Australians that will eventually go to a referendum.
How Australia votes when that happens will speak volumes about how far we have, or have not, come since 1967.
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