About this record
This is a copy of a formal petition to King George V from the 'Aboriginal Inhabitants of Australia'. It asks the king to intervene to 'prevent the extinction of the Aboriginal Race', improve their conditions and give them a voice in federal parliament.
Aboriginal representation in federal parliament
Yorta Yorta Elder William Cooper, an important First Australian leader and the founder of the Australian Aborigines League, believed that an advocate for First Australians in the federal parliament was vital. He claimed that the advocate, whether a First Australian or not, had to be able to 'think black'. They must also be accepted by First Australians as having knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander needs.
Cooper spent 4 years travelling between First Australian reserves and settlements collecting signatures and ‘marks’ (in cases where people were illiterate) for this petition demanding action on First Australian affairs. Over 1800 people signed the petition. The petition was then submitted to the Australian Government, and the Department of the Interior created this copy of it.
However, in March 1938, the Australian Government decided not to send the petition to King George VI (George V had died in 1936). It argued that no 'good purpose' would be served by doing so. Cooper, deeply disappointed after years of effort, was ignored. He was told that the question of the welfare of Aboriginal people was receiving 'sympathetic consideration' by the Australian Government and state governments.
In response to the petition, the solicitor-general George Knowles advised the Australian Government that the federal parliament had no constitutional authority to pass legislation giving representation to First Australian people living in the states. This remained the case until the Australian Constitution was amended following the 1967 referendum.
Learning resource text © Education Services Australia Limited and the National Archives of Australia 2010.