We asked that section 51 be submitted to a referendum to remove this limitation on Commonwealth action in the belief that all Australian laws ought to apply equally to all Australians and that no one should be excluded from Commonwealth benefits on account of race.
The case for changing section 51, Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders March 1967.
Since the Day of Mourning campaign in 1938 to recognise the 150th anniversary of white invasion, Aboriginal people had been agitating for political and social recognition with little success. In April 1957 a group in Sydney began a campaign to petition the Commonwealth to change the constitution. The campaign achieved national status with the formation of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Straight Islanders (FCAATSI) in 1958.
It took ten years to gather over 1 million signatures on petitions that gave Parliament a basis to support holding the referendum. The petitions were first presented to Parliament in 1963 without success. In 1965 a group of activists from Sydney University, led by Charles Perkins, organized a Freedom Ride around the northern towns of NSW drawing attention to segregation and active discrimination against Aboriginal people.
The media made the Ride front page news, shocking White Australia with the conditions in towns like Walgett, Moree, Lismore and Kempsey. The publicity and growing awareness in the wider community of the conditions and inequalities that faced Aboriginal people finally persuaded the majority of Australians to vote for constitutional change in May 1967.