Despite there having been a massive revision of the history of Indigenous peoples in Australia over recent decades, very little has been written which acknowledges the extent of the role played by the left, communists and militant unionists. There has also been a tendency for some of the ‘Black Power’ generation of Indigenous rights campaigners to ignore, dismiss or understate the significance of the role of communists, and simply lump them together with other ‘white’ liberals and do-gooders, even to label the Communist Party a ‘white’ party.
Yet this is an inaccurate portrait of the CPA. Over many years, some of Indigenous Australia’s best leaders cut their political teeth within, or in close collaboration with, the only party (until the late 1960s) that seriously and unfailingly fought for the rights of Indigenous people and against racism, raising virtually all the demands of the modern movement, often decades earlier.
They and many other Indigenous activists gained their political and organising experience and confidence as activists within, or working closely alongside, the left-wing and militant trade unions, most of which were led or heavily influenced by members of the CPA, sometimes in alliance with ALP socialists.
The enormous support throughout the non-Indigenous community that this movement now commands, evidenced in the quarter of a million people who marched across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in May 2000 on the anniversary of the 1967 referendum and the mass enthusiasm for PM Kevin Rudd’s 2008 apology, grew from foundations constructed decades earlier by the alliance of this country’s Indigenous people and the working-class and socialist movements. History shows that each significant gain won by the Indigenous people’s rights movement has been achieved through this powerful ‘black-red alliance’.