In this thesis I study Indigenous activism in the inner-Sydney suburb of Redfern in the 1970s. I explore the establishment and operation of five Aboriginal organisations: the Aboriginal Legal Service, the Aboriginal Medical Service, Murawina preschool and childcare centre, the Black Theatre and the Aboriginal Housing Company. The histories of these organisations, how they were set up and by whom, have not previously been comprehensively or collectively studied in an academic context. Yet they were the first to provide welfare services for Aboriginal people by Aboriginal people in the fields of law, health, education, culture and housing. This in itself makes it an important topic to explore.
Furthermore, Aboriginal organisations in Redfern were among the first to experience self-determination as a Commonwealth Government policy, which accordingly supported Aboriginal- run welfare services. However, none of the organisations limited their activities to providing welfare services, such as health or legal services, to their community. Rather they became political power bases that extended their influence beyond the local to the state and national levels. Their representatives took part in articulating Aboriginal nationalism and in the daily practises of the organisations strived for Aboriginal control and their definition of Aboriginal self-determination. Yet, in order to receive funding they had to negotiate the scope and the limits of their activism with the representatives of the newly established Department of Aboriginal Affairs at a time when the non-Indigenous state was most committed to universalist welfare under the Whitlam government.
As part of their aspiration for self-determination the Aboriginal organisations in Redfern assumed a central role in strengthening urban Aboriginal identity and community in a settler colonial city which in non-Indigenous minds had been discursively emptied of Indigenous presence. In their activism they challenged the notion of urban space as void of Aboriginality and in their struggle for self-determination claimed Indigenous ownership of social and geographic spaces in the city.
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