4 - Aborigines Advancement League (Victoria)

Date Range1957 -

The Aborigines Advancement League of Victoria is a community group and welfare body that was formed in early 1957. Its founders were Aboriginal leader Doug Nicholls, Gordon Bryant MHR, feminist and peace activist Doris Blackburn, and Church of Christ pastor Stan Davey. The League was one of many state advancement bodies formed during the late 1950s, which were widely modelled on the South Australian Aborigines Advancement League established in 1938. The Victorian League emerged in the context of a public outpouring of anger and outrage regarding the health and welfare of the Warburton Range people in Western Australia. In Melbourne and elsewhere in south-eastern Australia, Western Australian Senator William Grayden and Doug Nicholls were instrumental in bringing peoples’ attention to the issues involved. The decision to form the League was made at this time. Doug Nicholls was the League’s field officer from 1957, and was for many people the public face of the League for its first decade. Alick Jackomos became the League’s second field officer in 1965.

The organisation of the League during its early years reflected Doug Nicholls’ philosophy that Aboriginal and white Australians needed to work together towards racial equality. Stan Davey was an important early leader of the League, who was decisive in shaping its administrative structure. Davey was honorary secretary until 1960 and Director from 1966-1968. The League was initially funded by public support and by 'affiliated groups', which developed into a network of affiliated branches that were closely connected to the League headquarters and whose members were mostly white Australians. As well as providing social services for Aboriginal Victorians in areas such as employment, scholarships and housing, the League undertook political lobbying of governments around Australia, and was involved in the Referendum of 1967 and with the Aborigines Welfare Board. The League’s quarterly magazine Smoke Signals was published between 1957 and 1972.

Changes in the League from the 1960s reflected the growing desire among Aboriginal people at that time for autonomy in Aboriginal affairs. An all-Aboriginal branch of the League was established in 1964. Radical activists helped give voice to 'a long-term Indigenous-inspired aspiration for control of their own affairs' (Broome, 2010, page 154). This aim was incompatible with the outlook of many branch members who continued to support the idea of a League based on Aboriginal and white Australians working together. This was one of various factors that saw the branches fold, and the resignation of Doug Nicholls from the League.

The League’s first Aboriginal Director was activist and community leader Bruce McGuinness. From the 1970s, the League extended its support to the Aboriginal community through organisations such as the Aboriginal Legal Aid Service and the Aboriginal Child Care Agency. The League is based in Thornbury, Melbourne.

Diane Elizabeth Barwick worked closely with Stan Davey and Doug Nicholls for her PhD research between 1960 and 1963.


'At the grass roots of white support: Victorian Aboriginal Advancement League Branches 1957-1972' by Richard Broome, La Trobe Journal No 85 May 2010, State Library of Victoria website, URL:, accessed 30 April 2014. Direct quotes from pages 142, 154;

'Victorian Aborigines Advancement League', Shurlee Swain, eMelbourne - The Encyclopedia of Melbourne Online, URL:, accessed 30 April 2014.;

'Bruce McGuinness' in 'Collaborating for Indigenous Rights', website of the National Museum of Australia, URL:, accessed 30 April 2014;

'Their Darkest Hour: the films and photographs of William Grayden and the history of the 'Warburton Range controversy' of 1957', Pamela Faye McGrath and David Brooks, in Aboriginal History, Volume 34, 2010, URL:,+2010/5611/ch05.xhtml, accessed 30 April 2014;

See also:
Inventory item BARI00290 - PhD Research Notebook 'I' - First Sequence - 1960, Series 6 - PhD Thesis - 'A Little More Than Kin: Regional Affiliation and Group Identity among Aboriginal Migrants in Melbourne' - Fieldwork Notebooks, Diane Barwick Collection, MS 13521, State Library of Victoria, Australia;

Thinking Black: William Cooper and Australian Aborigines League, Bain Attwood and Andrew Markus (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra, 2004). See electronic extract at URL:, accessed 22 August 2005;

A Man of all Tribes: The Life of Alick Jackomos by Richard Broome and Corinne Manning, Aboriginal Studies Press: Canberra, 2006. See 'Chapter 9: Political Activism'. For electronic extract see, pages 121-22, accessed 13 July 2006.

Aboriginal Victorians: A History Since 1800, Richard Broome (Allen & Unwin: Crows Nest, New South Wales, 2005). Pages 330-31;

Victims of Victors?: The Story of the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League. A History of the Aborigines Advancement League. (Hyland House Publishing Pty Ltd: Melbourne, 1985).

Published by the The University of Melbourne eScholarship Research Centre, 5 October 2007
Listed by Ann McCarthy and Gavan McCarthy
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Updated 28 November 2014

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