Faith Bandler

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Faith Bandler, AC (born 27 September 1918) also known as Ida Lessing Faith Mussing is an Australian civil rights activist of South Sea Islander heritage. She is a campaigner for the rights of Indigenous Australians and South Sea Islanders. Bandler is best known for her leadership in the campaign for the 1967 referendum on Aboriginal Australians. Bandler is a native of Tumbulgum, New South Wales. A 1993 portrait of Bandler, by artist Margaret Woodward, is held by the State Library of New South Wales.[1]

Personal background[edit]

Bandler's father, Peter Mussing, had been blackbirded from Ambrym Island, part of Vanuatu, in 1883, at the age of about 13. He was then sent to Mackay, Queensland before being sent to work on a sugar cane plantation. He later escaped and married Bandler's mother, a Scottish-Indian woman from New South Wales. Bandler cites stories of her father's harsh experience as a slave labourer as a strong motivation for her activism.[2] Bandler grew up with her family on a farm near Murwillumbah, New South Wales. Her father died in 1924, when Bandler was just five years old. In 1934, Bandler left school and moved to Sydney, where she worked as a dressmaker's apprentice.

Community activism[edit]

During World War II, Bandler and her sister Kath served in the Australian Women's Land Army, working on fruit farms. Bandler and Indigenous workers received less pay than white workers, and after being discharged in 1945, she started to campaign for equal pay for Indigenous workers. After the war, Bandler moved to the Sydney suburb of Kings Cross. In 1952, she married Hans Bandler, a Jewish refugee from Vienna, Austria and lived in Frenchs Forest. During the war, Hans had been interned in the Nazi labor camps. The couple had a daughter, Lilon, born in 1954, and a fostered Aboriginal Australian son, Peter (Manual Armstrong). Hans died in 2009.

In 1956, Bandler became a full-time activist, becoming involved in the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship and the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI), which was formed in 1957. During this period, Bandler worked with her mentors Pearl Gibbs and Jessie Street. As general secretary of FCAATSI, Bandler led the campaign for a constitutional referendum to remove discriminatory provisions from the Constitution of Australia. The campaign, which included several massive petitions and hundreds of public meetings arranged by Bandler, resulted in the 1967 referendum being put to the people by the Holt government. The referendum succeeded in all six states, attracting nearly 91 percent support across the country, the highest amount of support for any referendum before or since.{}

Honors and awards[edit]


In 1974, Bandler started working on four books, two histories of the 1967 referendum, an account of her brother's life in New South Wales, and a novel about her father's experience of blackbirding in Queensland. Beginning in 1974, she also started campaigning for the rights of South Sea Islander Australians. According to Bandler's biographer, feminist writer and historian Marilyn Lake, this campaign was more challenging than the FCAATSI campaign for the 1967 referendum, since Bandler was fighting on two fronts. Not only was she battling historians who insisted that the blackbirded South Sea Islanders were actually voluntary indentured servants, but she was also to some extent ostracised by Indigenous Australians in the Australian civil rights movement, due to the increasing influence of separatist Black Power ideology.[6] In 1975, Bandler visited Ambryn Island, where her father had been kidnapped 92 years before. Throughout the 1970s, Bandler was also a prominent member of the Women's Electoral Lobby in New South Wales.

Published works


  1. ^ "Faith Bandler, 1993 / painted by Margaret Woodward". Catalogue entry. State Library of New South Wales. 2007. Retrieved 2009-11-04. 
  2. ^ "Famous Australians – Faith Bandler". Behind the News – Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on 2 January 2006. Retrieved 23 January 2006. 
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Faith Bandler awarded AC for indigenous campaign". 29 April 2009. [dead link]
  6. ^ Lake, Marilyn (2002). Faith: Faith Bandler, Gentle Activist. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86508-841-2. 

External links[edit]