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Neville Bonner

Quick Facts

  • Name: Neville Bonner
  • Born: Ukerebagh Island, 28 March,1922
  • Died: Ipswich, 5 February 1999
  • Australian of the Year 1979
  • First Indigenous member of the Commonwealth Parliament
  • Liberal Party Senator for Queensland, 1971–1983
  • Member of the Board of the ABC, 1983–1991

Biography

Neville Bonner was Australia’s first Indigenous parliamentarian. Bonner was the son of an Aboriginal mother of the Jagera people and an English father whom he never knew. He  was born on an island in the Tweed River in northern New South Wales. At the time Aboriginal people were not allowed into town at night so Bonner’s mother could not go to the hospital to give birth. Bonner said ‘She gave birth to me…under the palm tree…on a government-issued blanket’. 

Bonner had a limited education and worked in labouring jobs.  After he married he lived on Palm Island near Townsville and worked to help his community. Bonner was convinced little would change for Indigenous Australians unless they were represented in parliament. He said ,‘You've got to get into the system, work through the system and make changes.’

Bonner joined the Liberal Party and in 1971 was chosen to fill a Senate vacancy. He celebrated his first parliamentary speech with a boomerang throwing display on the lawns of Parliament House. Bonner was a Senator for 12 years and worked on Indigenous and social welfare issues. He did not always agree with his party’s policies and several times crossed the floor and voted with the Opposition. Disillusioned with the way he had been treated, Bonner resigned from the Liberal Party in 1983 and ran for the Senate as an Independent but was unsuccessful. He retired from politics, but not from public life.

Bonner continued to raise awareness of Indigenous and welfare issues. He worked with Amnesty International, the Indigenous Advisory Council and other organisations to improve conditions for Indigenous people.

Bonner was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Griffith University, and, after his death in 1999, the Neville Bonner Memorial Scholarship was established by the Australian National University. In 2004, the federal electorate of Bonner, in Queensland, was named in his honour.

Media

Books

  • Bonner, N 1977, Equal World, Equal Share, World Vision.
  • Bonner, N  1982, For the Love of Children, World Vision.
  • Turner, Anne (ed) 1975,  Black Power in Australia, Heinemann.

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