South Australia is the only Australian colony that was not settled as a penal colony by the British. It was established as a ‘free settlement’ in 1836. Commentators have pointed to this difference as a factor in South Australia’s political culture. Of course, it’s important to note that the settlement of South Australia was still an invasion which included significant frontier conflicts with Aboriginal traditional owners.
South Australia has long been a progressive example for the other Australian states and territories. It was the first to legalise the formation of Trade Unions in 1876; the first to sanction the right to vote for women, including Aboriginal women in 1894; the first to decriminalise homosexual acts in 1975. – Social Movements in South Australia
This overview provides snapshots of some of the campaigns that had an impact, both historically and recently. There are many more! If you would like to contribute a case study contact the Commons librarians.
This resource is made possible by support from the Alf & Meg Steel Fund of the Australian Communities Foundation.
Campaign Case Studies
First Nations Rights
- South Australia’s history of voting rights for Aboriginal Australians, ABC Radio, 2017
- South Australia becomes the first state to establish an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, National Indigenous Times, 2023
- Aboriginal Land Rights, SA History Hub
- Aboriginal Policy & Administration, SA History Hub
- Treaty in South Australia, ANTAR Factsheet, 2022
A number of the campaigns listed below include leadership by First Nations people and/or asserting of First Nations rights, along with other movements and communities.
Women’s Right to Vote
- The South Australian women’s suffrage campaign – The Story of How We Won the Vote, Office for Women, Government of South Australia
- The Women’s Rights Movement, Social Movements in South Australia, History Trust of South Australia
- 1894 Women’s Suffrage, South Australia and 125 years of suffrage in South Australia, National Museum of Australia
- Aboriginal Women and the Vote, Office for Women, Government of South Australia
Nuclear Testing, 1950s-60s
Excerpt from Maralinga, National Museum of Australia:
With the agreement of the Australian Government, Britain tested atomic weapons at three sites on Australian territory: the Montebello Islands off Western Australia, and Emu Field and Maralinga in South Australia. The testing took place from 1952 to 1963, mostly at Maralinga.
None of the British tests adequately considered the presence of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara people, especially the greater risk of radiation exposure faced by families living on country… Following the first ‘Operation Totem’ test at Emu Field in 1953, Aboriginal people and white pastoralists were exposed to fallout which they described as a ‘Black Mist’. In addition to radiation danger, Aboriginal people around Maralinga also faced extreme social, emotional and physical hardship from being denied access to food and water resources for more than 30 years.
In May 1984 Australian scientists conducted radiation surveys in preparation for transferring Maralinga to its traditional owners, the Tjarutja. They found that major and widespread plutonium contamination remained… Veterans of the nuclear tests and Aboriginal people near the sites suffer higher cancer mortality rates and more cancers than the general population.
- British nuclear tests at Maralinga, Australia, Enviromental Justice Atlas – The environmental injustice of British Nuclear Tests at Maralinga between 1956 and 1963. Several nuclear tests took place with yields ranging from 1 to 27 kilotonnes of TNT resulting in persistent radioactive pollution.
- Maralinga, SA History Hub
- When the dust settles, culture remains: Maralinga Tjarutja – After campaigning for the clean-up of contamination, compensation and the handback in 2009 of the Maralinga Village and Test Sites; the Maralinga Tjarutja people have rebuilt vibrant, creative cultural communities that will ensure Maralinga Tjarutja custodianship of their lands into the future. Watch the Maralinga Tjarutia documentary on iView.
- Flawed ‘clean-up’ of Maralinga, Nuclear Free Campaign, Friends of the Earth
- Nuclear weapons test on Australian soil at Emu Field, South Australia, the lands of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) people.
- Black Mist across the Desert, Arena Magazine, 15 Oct 2023
- 70 years after Emu Field, ABC Podcast, 2023
- Emu Fields Atomic Bomb 70th Anniversary shines spotlight on Nuclear Weapons Treaty, National lndigenous Times, 15 Oct 2023
- Welcome to the Desert Where Nuclear Tests Melted Sand into Glass, Vice
Resistance to Uranium Mining, 1970s-Ongoing
Extract from The Australian Movement Against Uranium Mining: Its Rationale and Evolution (2014) by Marty Branagan:
From 1983, the campaign against uranium mining focused on the Roxby Downs project, owned by the ‘Joint Venturers’ – British Petroleum (BP) and Western Mining Corporation (WMC), who claimed that the uranium was just incidental to the project, which also involved gold, silver, copper and rare earths. In fact, it was the largest uranium deposit on earth. The project had been allowed by the ALP government, who just a year earlier had been promoting their anti-uranium credentials with stickers saying ‘Uranium – Play It Safe: Vote ALP’. Activists were appalled by this hypocrisy.
Many activists lived in dire fear of nuclear war during the 1980s, and this was the focus of much of the activism. A prime concern was that uranium fuels the global nuclear weapons cycle, either directly or by adding to stockpiles, which could also be accessed by terrorists. Aboriginal Elders from the Kokatha nation had clearly and repeatedly expressed their opposition to the mine. An independent anthropological report verified the Kokatha’s claim of sacred sites at Roxby but this was ignored by the Joint Venturers. The main (Whenan) shaft had already destroyed one site of significance and others were threatened.
While the Roxby blockades were unsuccessful in stopping the mine, the campaign continues.
- Australians campaign against nuclear power and uranium mining, 1974-1988, Global Nonviolent Action Database
- Interview with Kevin Buzzacott by Iain McIntyre, 2013, How To Make Trouble and Influence People – Mr Buzzacott was an Arabunna man and prominent anti-uranium and land rights activist. A key figure in the opposition to the South Australian Olympic Dam mine and the nuclear industry in general, he engaged in a series of campaigns taking the issues of dispossession and Aboriginal sovereignty directly to State and Federal governments and the corporations they serve. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are advised that this link includes a photograph of Mr Buzzacott who passed away in 2023.
- Lizards Revenge – Expansion Olympic Dam under pressure, 2012, Nuclear Monitor – Hundreds of people from around the country joined the Lizards Revenge music and arts festival and protest camp that took place at the gates of BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam copper and uranium mine in South Australia from 14-18 July 2012.
Proposed Nuclear Waste Dump, 1990s-2020s
Excerpt from Irati Wanti – The Poison, Leave It statement on the No Dump Alliance website, 2017:
On July 14th, 2004, after a six-year battle, the Federal Government abandoned their plans to impose a national nuclear waste dump in central SA. The campaign was led by senior Aboriginal women − the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta − many of them victims of the British atomic bomb tests half a century ago. For six years the Kungka Tjuta travelled the country, ‘talking straight out’. They called their campaign Irati Wanti – the poison, leave it. They explained, they demanded, they marched and sang. They told of extraordinary personal histories. They wrote passionate letters to politicians. They won.
We are the Aboriginal Women. Yankunytjatjara, Antikarinya and Kokatha. We know the country. The poison the Government is talking about will poison the land. We say, “No radioactive dump in our ngura – in our country.” It’s strictly poison, we don’t want it.
Excerpt from Kimba Court Win media release by ANFA in 2023:
Successive federal governments have been attempting to establish a national radioactive waste dump and every time the Traditional Custodians have been able to stop these attempts. After trying and failing near Woomera (SA), Muckaty (NT) and Wallerberdina (SA Flinders Ranges), the court has now decided that the proposed nuclear waste dump in Kimba (SA) has no legal grounds. We acknowledge the tenacity and courage of the Barngarla community to stand with strength and power to oppose this plan. Aboriginal responsibility to protect and look after Country is non-negotiable. – ANFA, 2023
- Proposed National Radioactive Waste Management Facility, South Australia, Environmental Justice Atlas – The site-selection process for Australia’s first centralised nuclear waste facility has been highly divisive. The final two shortlisted sites near Kimba, SA have faced much resistance from the Barngarla people, farmers, environmentalists and other actors.
- Nuclear Waste Dump archive of media statements and campaign updates, ANFA – The Australian Nuclear Free Alliance brings together Aboriginal people and relevant civil society groups concerned about existing or proposed nuclear developments in Australia, particularly on Aboriginal homelands.
- There’s a long and devastating history behind the proposal for a nuclear waste dump in South Australia (2021) Katherine Aigner, Australian National University
- Irati Wanti archived campaign website
Great Australian Bight – Oil Drilling
The campaign to stop Equinor from drilling for oil in the Great Australian Bight is a unique – and uniquely successful – piece of activism. As well as the enormous breadth of the Great Australian Bight Alliance – across surfers, fishermen, sailors, conservationists and everyday citizens – the campaign had depth: working its way into media, local governments, boardrooms and even the courts. – ASB Magazine
This short documentary piece explores an inspiring story of communities coming together to protect their home on the South coast of Australia. In 2019 Norwegian oil company, Equinor, was moving forward relentlessly with their plans to drill far offshore in one of the roughest and most pristine ocean environments on earth. Aboriginal peoples, surfers and activists came together all across the continent, united in their goal of driving Equinor from their home and protecting their way of life from destruction.
- Oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight. Australia, Global Atlas of Environmental Justice – The Great Australian Bight Alliance successfully opposed plans by big Norwegian oil company Equinor which would risk this pristine ocean for an oil field.
- How the Bight was won, Australasian Surf Business Magazine, 2020
- Great Australian Bight Success Timeline, The Wilderness Society
Darling Baaka River and Menindee Lakes
- Save Menindee Lakes
- Elder keeps on fighting for the Darling-Baaka River, Green Left, 2020
Munga-Thirri – Simpson Desert
- Munga-Thirri—Simpson Desert, South Australia, Wilderness Society – On 25 November, 2021, Australia’s largest ever national park in the Munga-Thirri—Simpson Desert was proclaimed by the South Australian Government.
- Alinta Coal Fired Northern Power Station in Port Augusta, South Australia
After long standing concerns about people’s health and the environment, the coal industry ends in Port Augusta, however justice issues continue as the local community loses jobs and fears for their future.
- Campaign for Safe Drinking Water in Oodnadatta – Something in the Water, ABC, 2023
In the dry, dusty town of Oodnadatta in central Australia, water has not only been a precious commodity, but one that has not been safe to drink. Until now.
- Yarn Bombing in South Australia, 2015, SA History Hub
- Campaigns that changed the Northern Territory
- Campaigns that changed Tasmania
- Campaigns that changed Western Australia
- Australia - South Australia
- Campaigns that Changed Australia (Commons Project)
- Movements_Campaigns - Anti nuclear_Uranium
- Movements_Campaigns - Anti nuclear_Uranium - Roxby Downs, South Australia
- Movements_Campaigns - South Australia