Abschol and the politicisation of Australian university students: the arena of Aboriginal rights, 1950-1973
thesisposted on 2022-03-29, 03:08 authored by Sofie Moutzouris
By 1970 students the world over had become renowned for their effective political agitation. In Australia students had also become prominent in the political arena. One issue for which they fought was Aboriginal rights. The bulk of these students carried out their protests within an organisation called Abschol. Despite prevalent conservatism, from the 1930s to the 1950s Australia saw an increase in both public awareness of Aboriginal issues and the activities of Aboriginal activists. During the early 1950s, due to concern at Aboriginal conditions, and appalled by the low levels of Aboriginal participation in the education system, the National Union of Australian University Students decided to deal with the issue of Aborigines and tertiary education. In 1953 a tertiary scholarship was established: the NUAUS Aboriginal Scholarship Scheme. Reflecting the stance of most Aboriginal advancement groups of the time, this scheme was set up with little analysis of the Aboriginal situation. Although it was stated from the earliest time that Abschol would have to branch out and address wider issues, this secondary aim was not realised until the late 1960s. Until this time Abschol was dominated by naive, often pathetic, and largely paternalistic fundraising.A number of students took up scholarships, but Aboriginal matriculants were difficult to find. The real problem lay in social, economic and political conditions which meant that Aborigines were not attending, let alone completing, secondary school. A slow reaslisation of the narrow focus of Abschol was combined with an increasing participation in Aboriginal advancement groups. This resulted in involvement in wider areas and a modification of Abschol's role. In 1961 Abschol undertook its first political venture when it made a submission to the Select Committee on Aboriginal Voting Rights. From 1963 Abschol became involved with the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines (later to become FCAATSI), attending their annual conferences, working closely with them, and encouraging state offices to affiliate with the organisation. This resulted in AbschoTs participation in the campaigns with which FCAATSI was involved and by 1966, with the 1967 Referendum and the N.T. wage case, Abschol had become active in Aboriginal affairs.After the referendum Abschol became truly politicised. This was largely due to the fact that by 1970 the Federal Government had taken over responsibility for secondary and tertiary scholarships. Once this had occurred, Abschol was free to pursue other areas and this fact, combined with rising student activism, meant that they became involved in all the major Aboriginal battles of the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1973 Abschol became the Race Relations Board of the new Australian Union of Students. This was meant to reflect the new emphasis of the organisation but this really marked the demise of Abschol. The Whitlam Government had taken away most of their reasons for existing. Whitlam had elevated Aboriginal issues to a high priority on the political agenda and once in power, he swiftly implemented a number of new and progressive reforms. In addition to this Aboriginal people were taking over the leading roles in Aboriginal affairs and it was time for many non-Aborigines to step aside. These facts represented definite advancements and Abschol had always maintained that it only existed so that it could fight for a time when it would no longer be needed.