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Wall Hanging featuring the Lord’s Prayer #2012-0044

Timber veneer panel in painted white frame bearing the inscription: ‘The Lord is my shepherd…He leadeth me. (Psalm 23 v 1)’

History

Neville Bonner was born on Ukerebagh Island on the Tweed River, New South Wales, in 1922. Like many Indigenous children of his age 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 he and a group of young aboriginals went to Brisbane to try and enlist in the army so they could serve in the Second World War, but they were rejected. He says they were told that the army was not taking any Aborigines because of fears that, as Indigenous Australians, they would be too susceptible to the different climatic conditions in the countries that soldiers were being sent to and their health would not stand up. He later said that he was terribly disappointed about this as he felt that as an Australian he had an obligation to serve.

He married his first wife Mona Banfield in 1943 and with her moved eventually to Palm Island, where she was from. They had 5 children and fostered another 3 together. He lived on Palm 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 slowly worked his way to the fairly senior position of settlement overseer. Becoming involved in Aboriginal politics at that stage, he 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 Aboriginal rights organisation. He served as one of the league’s directors for several years and was the Queensland president in 1968-74.

Although he had always seen himself as a Labor voter, Bonner was partly prompted to join the Liberals during the 1967 referendum which amended the constitution to give the Commonwealth government the power to make laws in relation to Aboriginals when he was handing out how-to-vote cards and was challenged by local member Bill Hayden. Hayden argued that the ALP did more for aboriginals than the Liberal Party but Bonner was intensely annoyed that Labor presumed the automatic support of aboriginal people. He joined the Liberal Party in August 1967.

In 1971 he 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. He 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. He also served as the parliamentary representative on the Council of the then 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 timber veneer panel bearing the inscription ‘The Lord is my shepherd…He leadeth me. (Psalm 23 v 1) 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 panel featuring the quote from the bible is significant as an object that illustrates Bonner’s personal life and deep Christian faith.

Bonner’s grandmother, Ida, was a devout Christian and she passed her faith onto Neville, who was a committed Christian all his life. Bonner was also taught the Aboriginal laws and customs of his people and had a strong belief in Aboriginal spirituality which he felt sat well with his Christian beliefs. Both belief systems gave him great strength throughout his life.

  • The Lord is my shepherd…The Lord is my shepherd… —

Details

Width 210mm
Height 675mm
Depth 25mm
Medium Timber; veneer; metal; paint
Creator’s name Unknown
Impression -
Date created 1970s