Aboriginal Advancement League

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Aboriginal Advancement League
PredecessorAustralian Aborigines' League & Save the Aborigines Committee
Founded atMelbourne
PurposeIndigenous rights campaigning
  • Melbourne
Victoria, Australia
Formerly called
Victorian Aborigines Advancement League

The Aboriginal Advancement League was founded in 1957 as the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League (VAAL), is the oldest Aboriginal rights organisation in Australia still in operation. Its precursor organisations were the Australian Aborigines League and Save the Aborigines Committee, and it was also formerly known as Aborigines Advancement League (Victoria), and just Aborigines Advancement League.

The organisation is primarily concerned with Aboriginal welfare issues and the preservation of Aboriginal culture and heritage, and is based in Melbourne. Its journal is called Smoke Signals.


A pre-1986 badge of the AAL

The Victorian Aborigines Advancement League (VAAL)[1] was established in March 1957,[2] partly in response to an enquiry by retired magistrate, Charles McLean, who had been appointed in 1955 to investigate the circumstances of Aboriginal Victorians. McLean was critical of conditions in the Aboriginal reserves at Lake Tyers and Framlingham. McLean recommended that persons of mixed Aboriginal and European descent be removed from the reserves. The people of Lake Tyers objected to this, and the League was formed out of their campaign.[3]

The new League drew from two already existing organisations, the Australian Aborigines League, established in 1934[4] and the Save the Aborigines Committee, established as a response to the Warburton Ranges controversy in 1956–7. Founding President of the League was Gordon Bryant, with Doris Blackburn as Deputy President, Stan Davey as Secretary and Douglas Nicholls as Field Officer.[2]

A national umbrella organisation, the Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement (later FCAATSI) was founded in February 1958 in Adelaide, South Australia, but the Aborigines Advancement League of South Australia (AALSA) finally disaffiliated in 1966, because it thought the federal organisation was too centred on Victoria.[5] (Davey also became secretary of FCAATSI, before moving to Western Australia.[6]

Early activities included lobbying for a referendum to change the Australian constitution to allow the Federal government to legislate on Aboriginal affairs, and an establishing a legal defence fund for Albert Namatjira, after he was charged with supplying liquor to an Aboriginal ward.[2] By 1967 it had moved to being fully controlled by Aboriginal people with Bill Onus as the first Aboriginal President.[7] From 1975 to 1983, a salaried director of the Aboriginal Advancement League was Elizabeth Maud Hoffman becoming the organisations longest serving director.[8]


Smoke Signals is the official magazine of the AAL,[9] first published in April 1960[10] and still being published as of 2019. The first editor was Pastor Doug Nicholls.[10]

Current activities[edit]

The League provides a number of services to Koorie people, including family support, food assistance, home visits, advocacy, counselling and educational programs, drug and alcohol awareness and funeral services. It also has a Cultural Unit that provides information and speakers for schools.[11]

Headquarters and cultural repository[edit]

In 1999 the Victorian government completed a $2,790,000 renovation of the League's headquarters in Watt Street, Thornbury. As well as providing a community facility, the building houses a museum and "keeping place" for items of historical, cultural and spiritual importance to Aboriginal people.[12]


  1. ^ "Victorian Aborigines Advancement League". Melbourne: The city, past and present. Retrieved 3 July 2019.
  2. ^ a b c "Victorian Aborigines Advancement League". Archived from the original on 18 March 2012.
  3. ^ "Agreements, Treaties and Negotiated Settlements". Agreements, Treaties and Negotiated Settlements. Retrieved 30 November 2020.
  4. ^ Australian Aborigines League – Institution – Reason in Revolt:Australian Aborigines League (1934– )
  5. ^ Kerin, Rani (2017). "6. Adelaide-based activism in the mid-twentieth century: Radical respectability". In Brock, Peggy; Gara, Tom (eds.). Colonialism and its Aftermath: A history of Aboriginal South Australia. Wakefield Press. p. 115. ISBN 9781743054994.
  6. ^ Moriarty, John (25 November 1996). "John Moriarty (1938)". National Museum of Australia (Interview). Interviewed by Sue Taffe. Archived from the original on 30 September 2009. Retrieved 22 March 2010.
  7. ^ Onus, William Townsend (Bill) (1906–1968) Biographical Entry – Australian Dictionary of Biography Online
  8. ^ "Who is Elizabeth Morgan". EMHAWS.ORG.AU. Retrieved 5 August 2020.
  9. ^ "Smoke Signals". Smoke Signals. ISSN 0049-0776. OCLC 220165347.
  10. ^ a b "Magazine 'Smoke Signals' Vol 1, No 1". Museums Victoria Collections. Archived from the original on 11 December 2020. Retrieved 24 August 2021.
  11. ^ ourcommunity.com.au – Directory of Organisations Archived September 3, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Minister opens refurbished Aborigines Advancement League (2/7/99) Archived September 28, 2007, at the Wayback Machine

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]