Macquarie University
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The Cummeragunja walk-off: a study of black/white politics and public discourse about race, ideology and place on the eve of the Second World War

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posted on 2022-03-28, 11:17 authored by Michael Victor Ward
In 1939 some 200 Aboriginal people walked off the Cummeragunja Station on the NSW-Victoria border in protest over decades of mistreatment and abuse at the hands of the NSW Protection bureaucracy. Aboriginal protest was not new by the late 1930s but the social and political landscape had significantly shifted. In particular the media was more receptive, the white supporters of the Aborigines had grown in numbers and the Aboriginal political presence had grown in size, range and force. Not only did the protesters take the novel approach of crossing the Murray River from NSW and camping on the other side, they developed considerable momentum, utilising the media to spread the word, and marshalled significant support from cross-sections of the community at large. Although the bureaucracy was successful in ending the protest, it was a pyrrhic victory and confronted them with a choice: they could either pursue the responses of old or adapt to maintain control in the new political landscape. By exploring these disparate forces, this thesis argues that the Cummeragunja walk-off was a particular kind of protest at a particular point in time. In the end it did not achieve what the protesters hoped it would. However, it helped to shift the Australian conscience on Indigenous issues and created a strong Indigenous legacy lasting to this day.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- Chapter One. ”The Barmah Forest is our ancestral home. Cummeragunja is special”: Dhungulla and the importance of place -- Chapter Two. A tale of two cities : the response to the walk-off in Melbourne and Sydney -- Chapter Three. “Go for it, boys. Now is your chance to leave the reserve. I will get all the publicity I want now”: the walk-off in metropolitan and rural newspapers -- Chapter Four. “There is absolutely no truth in the allegations” : the NSW Aborigines’ Protection Board reaction -- Conclusion -- Epilogue -- Bibliography.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 90-100

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


MRes, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations

Department, Centre or School

Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Alison Holland


Copyright Michael Victor Ward 2016. Copyright disclaimer:




New South Wales


1 online resource (vi, 100 pages) illustrations, portraits, 1 colour map

Former Identifiers