Black Mile helped galvanise Indigenous struggle

Land Rights rally at Fitzroy Gardens - 1976
Melb. Land Rights rally - 1976

The story of the urban Koori communuty that emerged in the inner city suburb of Fitzroy and in neighbouring Collingwood. The Black Mile was the popular name given to Fitzroy's Gertrude Street, a main artery of the suburb, which was home to some legendary black pubs, and later, the Aboriginal community's own health, housing and legal organisations.

The Koori community in Fitzroy helped galvanise the long struggle for self-determination, after resident and community leader Pastor Doug Nicholls co-founded the Australian Aborigines League in Fitzroy in the 1930s.

Today, rising rents and gentrification have forced many Indigenous people from the area. But traces of the Black Mile remain. For many Victorian Aboriginal people, Fitzroy is still home.

The Black Mile is narrated by Indigenous actor and writer John Harding, who co-authored the play The Dirty Mile, performed by Ilbijerri Theatre company, in Melbourne in 2008.

Day of Mourning Protest

1938 Day of Mourning protest, Sydney
1938 Day of Mourning protest, Sydney 1938 (cropped - click to expand)

In October 1937 the Fergusen and Patton wings of the Aborigines Progressive Association joined forces with William Cooper's Australian Aborigines League to unite behind Cooper's call for a Day of Mourning on Australia Day 1938 (the sesqui-centenery of British settlement). The united front began an intense and dramatic campaign of public speeches, support meetings and press interviews. The campaign ultimately forced the NSW Premier to set up a Select Committee to inquire into the policies and administration of the NSW Aborigines Protection Board.

The Day of Mourning and Protest on 26 January 1938 the celebration of 150 years of 'theft and genocide'. The Australian Aborigines League called on white Australia: 'You took our land by force ... You have almost exterminated our people, but there are enough of us remaining to expose the humbug of your claim, to be civilised, progressive and humane.' AAL President William Cooper declares 26th of January a 'Day of Mourning'.

At the Day of Mourning Congress on 26 January 1938, Jack Patten, as President of the Aborigines' Progressive Association, announced: "The conference is called to bring home to the white people of Australia the frightful conditions in which the native aborigines of this continent live. We ask for full citizen rights, including old age pensions, maternity bonus, relief work when unemployed, and the right to a full education for our children."

The Day of Mourning protest in 1938 is regarded as one of the most important moments in the history of the indigenous resistance in the early 20th Century.

Gary Foley

pdfLand rights and Aboriginal voices pdf  
Gary Foley and Tim Anderson pdf  

The Australian Aboriginal League float in the 1947 May Day processionClick to expand
The Australian Aboriginal League float
in the 1947 May Day procession.
Photo: Australian War Memorial

National Museum of Australia

From Little Things Big Things Grow, a National Museum of Australia travelling exhibition, follows the struggle to gain political and social equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
It tells the story of a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians who banded together in the fight to end discrimination.

Some of these activists are well-recognised, others obscure or forgotten. Some had personally experienced discrimination, others took up the cause as a question of justice.

The exhibition reveals the story of these activists as they brought unwelcome truths to Australia's attention. They battled to be believed. Their personal lives were sacrificed in the fight and some were victimised for taking a stand. A few were even spied on by ASIO (the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation).


Travelling Exhibition - Venues and Dates

12 June to 07 November 2010 - Bunjilaka, Museum Victoria
South Australia:
11 December 2010 to 6 February 2011 - Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute, Adelaide
New South Wales:
21 February to 19 June 2011
Museum of Sydney, Sydney
Western Australia:
July to September 2011
Wanneroo Cultural Centre
1 October 2011 to 19 February 2012
Queensland Museum
March to May 2012
Museum of Tropical Queensland, Townsville


You are invited to a City of Yarra Talking Arts Forum

Art, fashion, music, public housing, Indigenous and community services

Gertrude Street's celebrated identity has been forged by a patchwork of individually colourful communities rather than a single defining characteristic. Community services for the disadvantaged operate beside high-end restaurants and fashion houses. Wealthy homeowners reside alongside public housing tenants. The street also claims an important Indigenous history and is one of Melbourne's tightest clusters of independent cultural production. How long can Gertrude Street remain in such an ambiguous, transitional state? What can Yarra and other cities learn from the continued co-existence of these genuinely diverse activities, and can this mix be reproduced elsewhere?

Chair: Dr Megan Evans, Faculty of Arts, Education and Human Development, School of Communication and Arts, Victoria University
Keynote: Dr Kate Shaw, ARC Research Fellow, Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, University of Melbourne
Panel: Michael Needham, Visiting Artist in Residence, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces & Atherton Gardens Housing Estate
Monique McNamara, Founder, The Gertrude Association
Peter Wearne, Director of Services, Youth Substance Abuse Service
Glenda Thorpe, CEO, Melbourne Aboriginal Sports and Recreation (MAYSAR)
Cr Amanda Stone, Yarra City Council

Entry: FREE
When: 6-8pm Thursday 4th November 2010
Where: Melbourne Aboriginal Sports and Recreation (MAYSAR), 184 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy

For more information, please contact Kirsty Baird, Arts and Cultural Development Officer on 9205 5038 or at

Or check out the website:

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