Service Australia Logo

First Aboriginal-led publication calls for equal rights

The Aborigines Progressive Association fought for full citizenship rights for Aboriginal peoples, including social security benefits. They organised, protested and addressed political leaders. They spread their message through the first Aboriginal-led publication, The Australian Abo Call.

In particular, and without delay, all Aborigines should be entitled … to receive the benefits of old-age and invalid pensions, whether living in Aboriginal settlements or not.

Jack Patten, 'Our ten points', 1938
Attachment Size
the-australian-abo-call-1938.pdf 534.17 KB
Attachment Size
the-australian-abo-call-plaintext.docx 44.8 KB
About the artefact

From the 1930s, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people increasingly called for citizenship rights.

Citizenship rights were not only important for voting rights, they also affected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ access to social service payments.

To fight for equality and highlight the oppression of Aboriginal people, Aboriginal activists formed the Aborigines Progressive Association (APA) in 1937.

Aboriginal leaders Jack Patten and Bill Ferguson were the key founders of the APA. Patten was from Cummeragunja and Ferguson was from Darlington Point, both in south-west New South Wales.

Using Aboriginal voices to publicise the cause 

The APA use a range of strategies to fight for equality. These strategies included protesting, speaking to political leaders, and writing papers, leaflets and pamphlets for Aboriginal people and supporters. Jack Patten felt that ‘publicity was essential to the cause’ (Lydon 2012:110).

It was important to the APA that only Aboriginal people could represent Aboriginal views and interests, since white people often spoke on behalf of or over Aboriginal people. 

Publishing The Australian Abo Call

One way the APA communicated their message was through The Australian Abo Call, the first Aboriginal-led publication. The subheading of the publication declared that it represented ‘The voice of the Aborigines’, which drew attention to the fact that it was by Aboriginal people for Aboriginal people.

The APA published 6 editions of The Australian Abo Call during 1938. Copies ‘reached people on reserves and stations throughout Australia’ (Langton and Horner 1987:32–35).

Covering the Australian Aborigines Conference

The source here is the front cover of the first edition of The Australian Abo Call. It includes an article about the Australian Aborigines Conference and a photo of the conference speakers. 

The APA held the conference in Sydney on 26 January 1938, the Day of Mourning and Protest. They collaborated with the Victorian-based Australian Aborigines League. The conference was open only to Aboriginal people, and over 100 people went. Speakers included Tom Foster, Jack Kinchela, William Cooper, Douglas Nicholls, Jack Patten, and Bill Ferguson.

Making recommendations to government 

During the conference, members agreed to make a statement to Prime Minister Joseph Lyons about how to improve circumstances for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The front-page article of this edition, ‘Our ten points’, is the full statement which the APA delivered on 31 January 1938.

The first step listed in the 10 points was to create a Department of Aboriginal Affairs. The department was to work towards full citizenship rights for Aboriginal people and have a board that included Aboriginal people. To do this, the department would move Aboriginal affairs from being a state-based responsibility to being a federal responsibility.

Aboriginal affairs didn't become a federal responsibility until the late 1960s, following the 1967 Referendum. A federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs was first created in December 1972.

Connecting social services and citizenship

The APA specifically asked for Aboriginal people ‘to receive the benefits of old-age and invalid pensions, whether living in Aboriginal settlements or not’. This was an important point, as Aboriginal people who lived on missions or settlements were usually under the control of state-based Acts. Typically, authorities of missions and settlements collected and controlled Aboriginal people’s government payments, or Aboriginal people were not considered eligible for them at all.

This publication shows that Aboriginal people fighting for access to social security payments was a key part of Aboriginal peoples’ claim to citizenship rights.

While the federal government brought social services under one Act in 1947, this new Act continued to exclude Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from social services payments.

Source details

The APA stayed active until 1944. The 1938 conference and the other activities of the APA have become landmark moments in Australian history.

The Australian Abo Call was written and edited by Jack Patten. The publication was collected by Percy R Stephensen, the publisher and financial supporter of the APA. All issues were kept in his papers until Stephensen’s widow and son donated them to the Mitchell Library, which is part of State Library of New South Wales (SLNSW).

Access ‘Our ten points’ in full on the SLNSW catalogue website. Alternatively, you can access the article through the Trove website hosted by the National Library of Australia.


Permission to include this artefact was granted by Jack Patten’s grandson John Patten, Yorta Yorta and Bundjalung man.


Patten JT (ed) (April 1938) ‘Our ten points’, The Australian Abo Call: The Voice of the Aborigines, accessed 3 May 2023.