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Australian Black Panther Party

Category: Organisation
Subject Matter:Health and Community Services | Law - Policy and Justice
Summary Information:

The Australian Black Panther Party (ABBP) was first formed in December 1971. It ultimately had its headquarters in Brisbane, Queensland. The Brisbane Chapter of the party was established on 8 January 1972 by Aboriginal Australian rights activists Denis Walker and Sam Watson. Walker described the party as the 'vanguard for all depressed people, and in Australia the Aboriginals are the most depressed of all' (Cleaver & Katsiaficas, 2001).

In the beginning, ABPP was just 10 members, including a leadership group of 'field marshals' including Paul Coe, Gary Foley, Gary Williams and Billy Craigie.

Detailed Information:

Ideology & Politics

The ABPP adapted the politics and militant activism of the American Black Panther Party to address issues faced by Aboriginal Australians.

Its objectives were equality in education, health and legal services, the abolition of discriminatory legislation, life without racism, and the end of police harassment. More controversially, the ABPP demanded a United Nations-sponsored plebiscite for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders on whether to remain a part of Australia (Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House).

Although the ABPP endorsed militant activism like the American Black Panther Party, Walker stated that the main priority of the ABPP was land rights rather than urban issues and violent revolution. Foley said 'We want land rights now, and then the black man can assimilate, integrate or live separately. But he must be able to choose for himself' (Broome, 2010).

This desire for self-determination, Black pride, Black control, and the refusal to tolerate oppression became known by Aboriginal Australians as 'Black Power' due to the influence of African American activism (Lothian, 2005). In 1969, Aboriginal activist Bruce McGuinness urged all Aboriginal Australians to purchase a copy of Kwame Ture (formerly known as Stokely Carmichael) and Charles Hamilton's book Black Power. He suggested 'it should be a prized possession of every Aborigine' as the 'content of the book about American Negroes runs almost along identical lines of the Australian Aborigine' (McGuinness, 1969).

Like the American Black Panther Party, black berets, 'Afro' hairstyles, American slang, and clenched fists became popular symbols of this Black Power movement and commitment to militant Aboriginal politics (Lothian, 2005).

The ABPP leadership suggested that the threat of political violence was necessary to support activism for Aboriginal land rights and in the fight against police brutality.

Walker said members of the ABPP should learn how to correctly use and service weapons. He also argued that Aboriginal Australians must have the right to carry guns for self-defence.

Influence and legacy

The ABPP influenced the development of a Black Power consciousness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia.

However, the ABPP's greatest legacy was in pioneering several community services that to this day afford Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders access to core human rights, as well as empowering them to have control over their lives (Lothian, 2005).

A timeline of these initiatives includes:

  • October 1970: Establishment of the Aboriginal Legal Service of NSW. The Aboriginal Legal Service of New South Wales was established as a response to police brutality and to provide legal representation for the Aboriginal community. After beginning a law degree at the University of New South Wales, Coe, along with Foley and Williams, approached professor and dean of law at the university Hal Wootten. They proposed the idea of a shop-front free legal aid service, showing him the results of their 'pig patrols'. In these patrols, police interactions with the Aboriginal community were monitored and infringements of civil rights were recorded (Lothian, 2005). After reading the notes and witnessing police brutality firsthand on a patrol, Wootten wanted to help (Foley, 1988). Within weeks of the Aboriginal Legal Service being established, an overwhelming number of white barristers and solicitors volunteered their skills. A variation of the pig patrols known as the 'observer service' was installed, with barristers and solicitors providing evidence rather than young radicals. Wootten suggests this move led to a 'revolution' in police behaviour as officers would come 'far less frequently' to Redfern bars where they had traditionally abused Aboriginal people. They also dropped the unofficial Redfern curfew, which was only enforced over Aboriginal people (Wootten, 1973). The success of the NSW Aboriginal Legal Service led to a similar service being established in every state and territory by 1974 (Eggleston, 1977).
  • 1971: Establishment of the Aboriginal Medical Service: The Aboriginal Medical Service was set up to provide basic health care to the Aboriginal community, as well as improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal families. It was a reaction to the discrimination and disadvantage faced by Aboriginal Australians who became disillusioned with mainstream medical services. In particular, Aboriginal children experienced malnutrition and suffered from 'extra-ordinarily high incidences of eye diseases, respiratory infections, skin diseases, parasite infestations, and anemia' (Lothian, 2005). Within the service, the ABPP ran programs like the American Black Panther Party's 'Feed the People' and 'Free Breakfast for Children'. These included volunteers distributing fruit and vegetables to Aboriginal families in Sydney, as well as providing Aboriginal schoolchildren with breakfast on school mornings.
  • 1972: Establishment of the Aboriginal Housing Company. The Aboriginal Housing Company was established to provide accommodation to the Aboriginal community.
  • 1972: Establishment of the National Black Theatre. The National Black Theatre was established, with the aim of raising awareness of political activism and challenging stereotypical imagery of Aboriginal people perpetuated in the media. For example, a series of satirical sketches called Basically Black ran for 6 weeks at the Nimrod Theatre in Sydney.

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Related Entries

  • Denis Walker - Member

  • References

    General Reference
    Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House Australian Black Panthers Poster #2014-0233
    Kathleen Cleaver & George N. Katsiaficas (March 20 2001) Liberation, Imagination and the Black Panther Party
    Richard Broome (2010) Aboriginal Australians: A history since 1788
    Book Chapter
    Hal J Wootten (1973) Aborigines in the 70s: Seminars 1972-1973
    Elizabeth Eggleston (1977) Aborigines and change: Australia in the 70s
    Journal Article
    Kathy Lothian (March 2005) Seizing the Time: Australian Aborigines and the Influence of the Black Panther Party, 1969-1972
    Bruce McGuinness (1969) [Review of the book Black Power by S. Carmichael & C.V. Hamilton]
    Gary Foley (1988) One Black Life

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