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The first united all Aboriginal political organisation to form in Australia was the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association (A.A.P.A.). They formed in Sydney in 1924 and fought a bitter five-year campaign against the draconian polices of the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Board. Led by Worimi Aboriginal man Fred Maynard they were a ground-breaking group. They were the first pan-Aboriginal organisation to mount a nationally focussed campaign that demanded Aboriginal rights to land (a national land rights agenda), self-determination, citizenship in their own country, to stop the practice of the state controlled Protection Boards removing Aboriginal children from their families, that the Protection Boards be abolished and replaced by an all Aboriginal Council to sit under the Commonwealth government and to protect a distinct Aboriginal cultural identity. The AAPA members were innovative, articulate and eloquent political leaders whose demands remain the benchmark of Aboriginal rights up to the present day.

They established thirteen branches across New South Wales with four sub-branches. Opened their own offices in Crown Street, Sydney and within only six months of operation had attracted over six hundred Aboriginal members. Besides Fred Maynard there were many other prominent and respected Aboriginal office bearers in the new organisation across the state including Sid Ridgeway, Dick Johnson, Tom Lacey, Jane Duren, Ben Roundtree, Jim Doyle and Johnny Donovan to name but a few.

They would hold four conferences between 1925 and 1927 including the first ever Aboriginal civil rights convention held in Australia at St David’s Church and Hall in Surrey Hills in 1925. This conference attracted over 200 enthusiastic Aboriginal supporters and gained front page Sydney newspaper coverage. President Fred Maynard in his opening address as President of the new organisation outlined the AAPA’s directives:

We aim at the spiritual, political, industrial and social. We want to work out our own destiny. Our people have not had the courage to stand together in the past, but now we are united, and are determined to work for the preservation for all of those interests which are near and dear to us. Fred Maynard [1]

Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association logo
The logo of the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association. Image: NA
© John Maynard

The AAPA held a second conference at Kempsey in late 1925. This gathering remains a landmark moment in Aboriginal political history but sadly, little historically recognised today. The conference was held at the Kempsey showground and ran over three days with over 700 Aboriginal people in attendance. All of the papers were written and delivered by Aboriginal speakers on issues over land, protecting children, health, education, employment and housing. It was noted that a number of papers were delivered in Aboriginal lingo. At the close of the conference Fred Maynard delivered a powerful resolution that was sent to all sections of Australian government:

As it is the proud boast of Australia that every person born beneath the Southern Cross is born free, irrespective of origin, race, colour, creed, religion or any other impediment. We the representatives of the original people, in conference assembled, demand that we shall be accorded the same full right and privileges of citizenship as are enjoyed by all other sections of the community. Fred Maynard [2]

The AAPA would hold two further conferences in Grafton and Lismore in 1926 and 1927 before they were hounded out of existence by the New South Wales Police Force. They had released a manifesto of demands that was printed widely across the state in 1927. Those demands were dismissed by the New South Wales government and in response Fred Maynard wrote a powerful reply:

The members of [the AAPA] have also noted the strenuous efforts of the Trade Union leaders to attain the conditions which existed in our country at the time of invasion by Europeans – the men only worked when necessary – we called no man “Master” and we had no king. Fred Maynard [3]

The legacy and memory of the AAPA and these early Aboriginal activists remains as a source of inspiration, courage and pride.

Emma and Fred Maynard
Fred Maynard (John Maynard’s grandfather), standing with his sister Emma at the Rocks, Sydney in 1927 at the height of his political activity. Image: Unknown
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[1] Daily Guardian, 1925 7 May 1925

[2] Macleay Chronicle, 7 October 1925

[3] Maynard, F 1927a, New South Wales Premiers Department, correspondence files, A27/915