On 25 January, the McMahon Government announced a new policy; Aborigines should have a choice about the degree to which they identify ... and should be encouraged to manage their own affairs. This statement signalled an important shift away from the assimilation policy.
1972 - Institute funding for Lake Mungo study
In 1972, the Institute approved a grant of $13,000 to geologist, Jim Bowler and anthropologist, John Mulvaney for fieldwork at Lake Mungo in NSW.
Bowler and Mulvaney were present in the discovery of ancient human remains now known as 'Mungo Lady.' This discovery also provided the earliest evidence in the world for cremation ritual.
At the time,it was assumed the Australian continent was settled by humans only in the past few thousand years or less and Mungo Lady was dated initially to 26,000 years.
This discovery is evidence of the long continuous occupation of Aboriginal people on the continent of Australia.
1972 - Aboriginal Tent Embassy
On 27 January at 1.00 am in the morning, four Aboriginal men: Michael Anderson, Billie Craigie, Tony Coorey, and Bertie Williams arrived in Canberra from Sydney and set up the Aboriginal Tent Embassy by planting a beach umbrella on the lawn of Parliament House, now the old Parliament House.
The men were protesting the McMahon Government's refusal to recognise Aboriginal land rights and instead the government favoured a general purpose lease on lands for Aborigines, conditional upon their 'intention and ability to make reasonable economic and social use of land.' The condition also excluded all rights they had to mineral and forest rights.
It did not take long for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal supporters, from all parts of Australia, to join in the protest. The umbrella very quickly was replaced with a sea of tents on the lawns.
This political protest made national and international media headlines, with favourable publicity in the struggle for Aboriginal rights in Australia.
1973 - Whitlam Government changes the Immigration Restriction Act
The Whitlam Government takes final steps to remove race as a factor in Australia’s immigration provisions in the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, effectively ending the so-called White Australia policy.
This policy favoured immigrants from certain countries and of certain character. It also effectively restricted the rights and freedoms on non-whites living in Australia including Aboriginal people.
1973 - AIAS expands its research functions
The AIAS Principal Dr Peter Ucko states, "If we are to keep pace with the changing political and social situations of the Aborigines, the institute can no longer afford to deal only with traditional Aboriginal life."
The Council agrees and the Institute expands its research functions to include current issues, despite the limitations of the AIAS Act 1964.
1974 - Aboriginal people included in AIAS membership
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people still had no significant role in the governance of the Institute and continued to be seen as that of 'informant'. Generally, informants were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who worked with and assisted researchers. Their work was often unrecognised and not acknowledged in any research writings.
Though Senator Neville Bonner and Dick Roughsey were the only Aboriginal members of the Council, contained in the Minutes of the Meeting of Council on 20-21 April 1974, the Council in its discussion on all categories of membership including election to Council made the formal decision that:
Aboriginal people who have rendered services to Aboriginal studies be nominated for election to Membership of the Institute.
The relevant Rules of Membership contained within the AIAS Act 1964 should be suspended to allow members to submit nominations of Aboriginal people for election to membership at the May 1974 Biennial meeting.
1974 - Protests over AIAS conference
A group of five Aboriginal and one non-Aboriginal person under the pseudonym of Eaglehawk and Crow in an open letter concerning the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, publicly protest a 17-day conference organised by the Institute. The letter also urges members to not attend the conference.
With over 300 papers to be presented at the conference, only two Aboriginal people and one Torres Strait Islander person participated in the conference.
Aboriginal activist and high profile senior public servant, Charles Perkins attacks the Institute and conference saying:
... It's a scandal when they have invited the intellectual elite of the country and people from overseas to attend the conference but they won't have any Aborigines there ... In future they will have to get their information on the Aboriginal culture from someone else because we are not going to give it to them.
1974 - The Council approves funding of $20,000 initially for training of Aborigines involved in Institute-funded research projects
1974 - Truganini
The Director of the Museum of Tasmania seeks the AIAS Council views for Truganini's skeleton, the last full-blooded Tasmanian Aboriginal to die in Tasmania in 1876, to be placed in a mausoleum erected as a monument to Truganini and Tasmanian Aboriginals with the proviso the skeleton is preserved for future scientific study.
The Council totally rejects the proposal believing Truganini's remains be disposed of immediately in accordance with her own wish to be buried in the deep waters of the D'Entrecasteaux Channel or the wishes of her descendants.
They also wrote to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs asking him to write to the Prime Minister of Australia to convey the feelings of the Council to the Tasmanian Premier.
In 1976–a hundred years after her death–Truganini's remains were buried according to her wishes.