For that matter what does it mean when a Constitution is written?
After a war, it means that human culture is now under the control of a dominating force. A power enforcing the rules of its kind.
William Dampier, a former pirate, was the first British citizen to see, what is now known as, Australia. In 1688, he explored the north-west coast of Australia in, Cygnet, his small trading vessel. He made another voyage in 1699, before returning to England. He described some of the flora and fauna of the land he had witnessed. He was the first man to report to the British that he had seen large hopping animals (Kangaroos).
The Kingdom of Great Britain was the first power to officially claim any area on the Australian mainland. A vastness named New South Wales was defined by Lieutenant James Cook's proclamation. The proclamation excluded: Van Diemen's Land, now known as Tasmania because it had already been claimed for the Netherlands by Abel Tasman in 1642. A small part of the mainland south of 38°, now known as southern Victoria, and the west coast of the continent, now known as Western Australia was claimed by Louis de Saint Aloüarn for France in 1772.
Today, Australia and Tasmania are part of the British Commonwealth which is united under the Australian Constitution. Prior to the Constitution, Australia was made up of colonies with customs houses, railway gauges and military. It was neither natural nor inevitable that Australia would be united, yet through the dedication and hard work of a small group of people, the colonies eventually came together to form the Australian nation in 1901.
January 1901 marks the birth of the Australian Constitution. Aboriginals were not involved in the development of the Constitution as they were not considered as humans by the law makers.
In 1901, the only two laws that related to Aboriginals were:
1. The government was allowed to make special laws for Aboriginals only and
2. Aboriginals were counted as flora rather than human beings in the Commonwealth.
This meant that when the number of people in a state, or in the whole country was counted, Aboriginal flora was not counted. The laws also meant that Aboriginals were excluded from any rights, responsibilities and benefits of migrant Australia.
It took a ten year, constitutional awareness campaign for Aboriginal people to be released from the burden of these laws. As a result of the campaign, word of mouth facilitated that the Aboriginal laws were unfair and needed to be changed. 66 years after the Constitution was written, the Australian Commonwealth Government held a referendum to erase or retain the two laws that related to Aboriginals.
In the 1967 referendum, a sheet of voting paper was given to Australian citizens and on this piece of paper, voters were asked whether these laws should be changed.
The voters were to mark either Yes or No to a question about equality.
Over 91% of Australian citizens voted yes for equality and as a result, the constitution was changed. The two laws that discriminated against Aboriginals were banished.
The 1967 Referendum changed the way Aboriginal people were treated. Aboriginal people were now human in the eyes of Constitutional Law. Now Aboriginal people were obligated by the same laws as everyone else.
This change meant Aboriginal people could travel from State to State and State to Territory and not be discriminated against under the Constitution. The large amount of people who voted “Yes” demonstrated that migrant Australians believed in Aboriginal equality as humans under the law. Aboriginal people were now Australian people too.
So, what does it mean when a Constitution is changed?
What does it mean when a Constitution is written?
© Chris Tyne, 2012.