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Photograph of Neville and Heather Bonner #2006-2439-6

Colour photograph of Neville and Heather Bonner.

History

Neville Bonner was born on Ukerebagh Island on the Tweed River, New South Wales, in 1922. He had little formal schooling, leaving after he had attained the third grade at the age of fifteen. Bonner spent much of his youth working as a rural labourer on properties across Queensland.

In 1940, Bonner and a group of young people went to Brisbane to try and enlist in the Army so they could serve in the Second World War, but they were rejected. Bonner said they were told that the Army was not accepting any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples. Bonner later said that he was terribly disappointed about this as he felt that, as an Australian, he had an obligation to serve.

Bonner married his first wife, Mona Banfield, in 1943 and moved with her to Palm Island, where she was from. They had five children and fostered another three together. Bonner lived on Palm Island from 1945–60, slowly becoming politicised but adopting the moderate tone that was typical of his demeanour later in Parliament. He became involved in the Palm Island Social Welfare Association and worked his way up to the fairly senior position of settlement overseer. Bonner eventually came to the conclusion that the only way to change unjust laws was to get into the system and change them from within.

In 1960, Bonner moved to Ipswich where he became associated with the One People of Australia League (OPAL), a moderate Indigenous rights organisation. Bonner served as one of the League’s directors for several years and was the Queensland President from 1978 to 1974.

Neville Bonner joined the Liberal Party in August, 1967. In 1971he became the first Aboriginal person to sit in the Commonwealth Parliament when he was chosen to fill a vacancy in the Senate caused by the resignation of a Liberal senator for Queensland. Bonner was subsequently returned at elections held in 1972, 1974, 1975 and 1980.

Neville Bonner became a well-known parliamentary figure during his years as a senator. He was a respected commentator on Indigenous issues and served on numerous Senate and Parliamentary Committees. Bonner also served as the parliamentary representative on the Council of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies (now the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies).

Dropped from one of the winnable positions on the Liberal Party ticket for the 1983 Senate election, Bonner resigned from the Party and contested the election as an independent. He narrowly missed retaining his seat. Neville Bonner continued to be a strong advocate for Indigenous rights until his death in 1999.

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Statement of values

This photograph of Heather and Neville Bonner is significant as part of the Neville Bonner collection which is comprised of a selection of objects that belonged to Australia’s first Indigenous federal politician, Neville Bonner.

The photograph of Heather and Neville Bonner is significant as an object that illustrates Bonner’s personal life and in particular the relationship with his wife Heather Bonner.

When Bonner was working with OPAL (One People of Australia League) he met the woman who became his second wife, Heather Ryan, as well as her politically minded daughter Robyn and son-in-law Noel. Bonner’s first wife, Mona, had died in 1969. Neville and Heather were married in 1972 at OPAL House in Brisbane. Heather and Neville’s relationship was a love affair that lasted all their lives. She was his rock and helped him through many difficult periods, especially once he moved to Canberra to take up his Senate seat. In 1992 he said of Heather that she was ‘one of the greatest blessings that God has ever given me’.

  • Neville and Heather Bonner.Neville and Heather Bonner. —

Details

Width 60mm
Height 80mm
Depth -
Medium Paper
Creator’s name -
Impression -
Date created Unknown