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Memento : Issue 19
2 memento january 2002 Aboriginal affairs Although the Gorton government had increased Commonwealth involvement in Aboriginal affairs, it had resisted pressure to alter the long-standing policy of assimilation or to entertain the principle of land rights. Nevertheless, influenced by 'Nugget' Coombs of the Council for Aboriginal Affairs, McMahon committed the government to assisting Aboriginal people to preserve and develop their culture. Four days after that decision, Justice Blackburn decided that the Yirrkala people of the Gove Peninsula in the Northern Territory, who were in dispute with mining company Nabalco, had no legal rights to the land to which they were traditionally associated. Under public pressure, ministerial and inter-departmental committees started considering the issue of land rights. By the end of the year, Australia and its government were moving towards the recognition of land rights for Indigenous people. Foreign affairs The crucial emerging foreign policy issues in 1971 were the formal recognition of China, its possible admission to the United Nations and the future of Taiwan. The Nixon administration had taken the lead in adopting a pragmatic approach to foreign relations with the People's Republic of China. After years of trading with the Chinese, Australia now had to consider how and when to abandon its policy of non-recognition. Labor seized the initiative, announcing that a Labor government would recognise communist China. Whitlam led a much-publicised delegation to the People's Republic. The government, however, was attached to the US policy of protecting Taiwan and sponsored American proposals for recognising 'Two Chinas'. The UN rebuffed the 'Two Chinas' policy and the McMahon government ended 1971 without having made any real progress in its diplomatic relationship with China. Other highlights In 1971 Neville Bonner became the first Aboriginal person to sit in an Australian Parliament; Jack Mundey's 'green bans' saved Kelly's Bush in Hunters Hill, Sydney; and Clifton Pugh won the Archibald prize with his portrait of Sir John McEwen. It was also the year that Shane Gould was declared the Australian Sportswoman of the Year and the Springboks toured Australia amid protest. Quotable quotes Billy McMahon wrote in the Reader's Digest: 'The world has suddenly grown small as it spins furiously down the ringing grooves of change'; Malcolm Fraser said 'life is not meant to be easy'; and Lang Hancock explained how 'the greed of capitalism' was 'the only driving force there is'. Gough Whitlam provided the quote of the year when he said McMahon 'sat there on the Isle of Capri plotting [Gorton's] destruction -- Tiberius with a telephone'. Neville Bonner, the first Indigenous person to hold a seat in Federal Parliament. Mr Bonner, who was turned away from Lismore State School at the age of 11 because he was black, said his win was 'a victory for all Australian Aboriginals'. NAA: A6180, 23/7/71/43 NAA: A1500, K26969 To read more of Ian Hancock's briefing on the 1971 Cabinet papers, look under Cabinet in The Collection section of our website at www.naa.gov.au. Australian troops returning from Vietnam march through Brisbane.