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The 1967 Referendum

Introductory Activities

These activities are designed to activate students’ prior knowledge and to develop their understanding of the key terms and concepts relating to the 1967 referendum and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander civil rights movement. Additionally, these activities develop students’ understanding of cause and effect, and allow them to begin considering the cultural perspectives of the period.

Start by discussing with students the meaning of terra nullius and its possible long-term impacts on the Indigenous population long after the initial colonisation of Australia by European settlers.

Terms to define:

  • federation
  • constitutional monarchy
  • referendum
  • assimilation
  • segregation

Background questions:

  • What year did Federation occur in and what did it mean for Australia?
  • What other countries around the world are governed by a constitutional monarchy?
  • Briefly research three other countries who forced assimilation and/or segregation on a community. What were the outcomes? 
  • What effect do you think policies of segregation and, later, assimilation had on the Indigenous population of Australia?

Conclude by discussing with students whether there are any current debates on which Australia might need to hold a referendum. Is it always necessary to hold a referendum?

The Federal Council of the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) led a campaign for the 1967 referendum based on an emotional appeal. They simplified the message to ‘Vote Yes’ and emphasised rights and equality for Indigenous people. The campaign received significant support from unions, churches and the Labor party. Nobody presented a national case for a ‘no’ vote.

For further background information about the 1967 referendum poster ‘Yes’ for Aborigines read this article from The Sydney Morning Herald about the child who was featured on the poster. 

  • Discuss with students the significance of the photograph being taken by a Czechoslovakian Jew.   

Analyse the poster ‘Yes’ for Aborigines: Write YES for Aborigines in the lower square May 27th to see what it reveals about the campaign for the 1967 referendum.

  • Is this image a primary or secondary source? Explain the reason for your answer.

  • What obvious information does this poster tell you about the 1967 referendum?

  • Why do you think the image of an infant was used on the poster?

  • What mood/emotion does the poster try to convey?

  • What effect might the image on this poster have had on the Indigenous population?


Have students imagine that the referendum is being held today. Then, using Trove, ask students to research and create their own referendum poster. Have them choose relevant images, words and colours that would influence the Australian population to vote ‘Yes’ on the ballot.

Keeping in mind that students are imagining that the referendum is being held today:

  • research an effective composition and use of colour for the poster

  • choose words that reflect a poster of today

  • demonstrate your research process by explaining your choice of images, words, colour etc. Provide examples of other posters, documents, newspapers, maps, people and photographs that influenced your decisions, and explain why you did or did not choose to use elements from these examples.

  • create a reference list for each source that you consulted in developing your poster.


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