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Office for Women

Aboriginal women and the vote

Australia has a unique human history. Aboriginal and Torres and Strait Islander peoples, as the oldest continuing culture in human history, lived here as the traditional custodians of the land and water for over 55,000 years. They expressed, and continue to practise, their beliefs through music, art, dance, song and story-telling about the lore that governed their social connections and their relationship to the land and water.

Generations cared for the land and water until it was colonised by the British in 1788. At that time, there were about a million Aboriginal people, comprising approximately 270 language and cultural groups. The British imposed their understanding of citizenship with no regard for the existing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander systems for maintaining social order, language, culture or their traditional ties with the land and water.

Aboriginal men living in South Australia had the right to vote since the passing of the South Australian Constitution in 1856. While the right to vote under colonial laws was extended to South Australian Aboriginal women in 1894, they were often not informed of this right or supported to enrol to vote. In some cases, Aboriginal people were actively discouraged from enrolling or voting.

At the Ngarrindjeri mission at Raukkan (then known as Point McLeay), a number of Aboriginal women insisted on enrolling on the electoral roll and voting in the 1896 election, even though they were actively discouraged by the white manager of the mission.

The 1902 Commonwealth Franchise Act removed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s right to vote in Federal elections. This right was reinstated in the 1962 Commonwealth Electoral Act, however it was not until the 1967 Referendum that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were included in the census.

It is important that we acknowledge the hurt, shame and disrespect of this disenfranchising of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and the ongoing racism and disempowerment they experience.

If you, or anyone you know, needs support:
phone Lifeline on 13 11 24, or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36.

Useful links

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that these websites may contain images or names of people who have passed away.

Here are some other useful links with information about the history of Aboriginal people and voting:

ABC News article titled 'South Australia's history of voting rights for Aboriginal Australians'

Aboriginal Australians and Parliament

Electoral milestones for Indigenous Australians


Reconciliation SA 2011, 'Citizenship: Let's Talk Recognition', viewed at on 13 December 2018. Now removed from the website.

Australian Electoral Commission 2006, 'History of the Indigenous Vote' (PDF 2.2 MB), viewed on 13 December 2018

ABC News Analysis 2017, 'The three biggest myths of the 1967 referendum' (ABC News), viewed on 16 January 2019

Page last updated : 14 Oct 2021
Provided by:
Department of Human Services
Last Updated:
02 Mar 2021
Printed on:
02 Oct 2023
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