I'm pleased to present a man who created history. Neville Thomas Bonner AO was an Australian politician, and the
first Indigenous Australian to become a member of the Parliament of
Bonner was born on Ukerebagh Island on the Tweed River, New South Wales, in
1922. Like many Indigenous children of his age he had little formal schooling,
leaving after he had attained the third grade at the age of fifteen. He worked
as a rural labourer on properties across Queensland until 1946, when he
commenced employment at the Palm Island Aboriginal settlement. He rose to the
position of assistant settlement overseer on Palm Island.
Bonner moved to Ipswich where he became associated with the One People
Australia League (OPAL), a moderate Aboriginal rights organisation. He served
as one of the league’s directors for several years and was the Queensland
president in 1970. Following the 1967 referendum, which amended the
constitution to give the Commonwealth government the power to make laws in
relation to Aboriginals, Bonner joined the Liberal Party. In 1971 he became the
first Aboriginal person to sit in the Commonwealth parliament when he was
chosen to fill a vacancy in the Senate caused by the resignation of a Liberal
senator for Queensland. He was subsequently returned at elections held in 1972,
1974, 1975 and 1980.
Bonner became a well-known parliamentary figure during his years as a senator.
He was never a serious contender for a place in the ministry of the McMahon
(1971–72) or Fraser (1975–83) governments. However he was a respected
commentator on Indigenous issues and served on numerous Senate and
Parliamentary Committees. He also served as the parliamentary representative on
the Council of the then Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies (now the
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies).
from one of the winnable positions on the Liberal Party ticket for the 1983
Senate election, Bonner resigned from the Party and contested the election as
an independent. He narrowly missed retaining his seat. Neville Bonner continued
to be a strong advocate for Indigenous rights until his death in 1999.
Clancy's comment: Go, Neville! You did your people proud.