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Making a Difference: Fifty Years of Indigenous Programs at Monash University, 1964–2014

Chapter 1

THE CENTRE, 1964–70

Colin Tatz tells the following story: ‘So, you’ve got a South African, a Canadian and a Pom who are taking an interest in Aboriginal affairs’. The first part sounds like a joke, but the context is far from funny and there’s no punch-line. South African-born Tatz was referring to fact that apart from himself and anthropologists Diane McEachern (later Barwick, born in Canada) and Jeremy Beckett (born in England), all outsiders, very few (if any) researchers were interested in the contemporary situation in Aboriginal affairs in Australia during the 1960s, a sign of the pervasiveness of the dying race theory which, even then, still held sway. A wall of ‘secrecy and silence’ surrounded the status of Aborigines ‘incarcerated’ on missions and reserves, and very little was known about how Aboriginal people lived in cities and towns. This insensitivity to the needs of Aboriginal people, and pretense ‘that white administration and white laws and special laws [hadn’t] impinged’ on them, lit a fire that burned deep inside Tatz: ‘I got very angry that this should be the state of play in what I thought was … the ultimate democratic country and the ultimate in human rights thinking, the country that boasted … the world’s best practice in terms of social welfare legislation … the basic wage … rights for women and all the rest of it.’ Turning his anger to good use, Tatz established the Centre for Research into Aboriginal Affairs at Monash University in 1964, thereby setting in train a series of events which saw Monash become a leader in Indigenous research, education, and employment.

Tatz’s Jewish parents, like most white South Africans, had black servants. Growing up in Johannesburg in an environment where black people were ‘berated, abused, demeaned and dehumanized’ exposed him from a young age to the injustice of systemic racial discrimination and abuse. After studying Arts and Law at Natal University in Pietermaritzburg, he completed a Masters thesis, later published as Shadow and Substance in South Africa: A Study in Land and Franchise Policies Affecting Africans, 1910–1960. Offered a PhD scholarship at The Australian National University in Canberra, Tatz left South Africa with his wife and young child at the end of 1960, the rationalised complicity or collaboration in racism that life there demanded having become intolerable to him. Once in Australia ‘it took him no more than two days to read the literature on contemporary Aboriginal affairs. There was absolutely nothing!’ According to one of his referees for the job at Monash, Tatz had a ‘wholly magnificent ability to get on with officials’ that opened doors that were closed to other researchers. Granted full access to records and permits to visit Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, his doctoral thesis exposed the gulf that existed between policy aims and claims on the one hand, and realities on the other. When a job came up at Monash University, Tatz applied. Appointed a lecturer in the Faculty of Economics and Politics, he commenced work on 1 April 1964.

Tatz had been at Monash less than a month when he proposed the establishment of a ‘Bureau of Aboriginal Affairs’. He had in mind a body like the South African Institute of Race Relations, a non-government, non-partisan, research body that produced annual reports on the current situation in South Africa. At the end of April 1964, Tatz wrote to the Vice Chancellor, J.A.L. Matheson, laying out his vision for a unit that would study the current problems that Aboriginal people were facing in society. This focus on the present made his proposal different from the newly established Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies (AIAS) in Canberra whose mandate was to study the past. The rationale for the AIAS was ‘to record language, song, art, material culture, ceremonial life and social structure before those traditions perished in the face of European ways’, a further sign that Aborigines were still viewed as a dying race. Utterly appalled at the shortsightedness of this focus, Tatz argued a case for bridging the ‘gaps in our knowledge of the life and conditions of Aborigines throughout Australia’ today. He recognised a degree of overlap with Charles Rowley’s Social Science Research Council (SSRC) funded project into matters affecting the social life and conditions of Aborigines, but saw no problem with this; to the contrary, he anticipated inheriting Rowley’s sources, materials and findings at the expiration of his three-year project.

The Bureau, as Tatz conceived it, was to be a ‘permanent organization’ that would act as a repository of information as well as a generator of research and ideas. Importantly, he stressed that he was not seeking ‘the creation of another learned, academic society’. Instead the ‘participation of all interested in the Aboriginal question’ – administrators, missionaries, pastoralists, activists, researchers, and Aborigines – would be sought. Tatz explained that he wanted the Bureau to assist administrators and others in developing a ‘greater knowledge and understanding of the Australian Aborigines and of the relations that exist or should exist between them and the rest of the Australian community’. More than that, he wanted the Bureau to ‘frame and advocate proposals on race relations, Aboriginal social and economic and legal conditions and education facilities’.

It was a bold and innovative proposal, especially for a young academic, but it was one that fitted with Monash’s ethos of being responsive to its external environment. Matheson, although supportive, queried Tatz’s statement of implied endorsement. In his proposal Tatz had written: ‘It is suggested that there is a need for [such an] organization’; Matheson wanted to know ‘who suggests?’ Having discussed the matter with the Directors of Native Affairs in the Northern Territory and Queensland, with mission authorities, and with academics, Tatz saw no need to dissemble: ‘The suggestion’, he replied, ‘is primarily my own’. Exceedingly self-assured, Tatz redrafted his proposal into a submission for Monash’s Professorial Board in June 1964. In this he emphasised the ‘enabling’ nature of the Bureau and its work: ‘I see the Bureau as an “action” research body’, he explained. He was careful to point out, however, that it would ‘not be a “do-good” organisation’, or even a ‘pressure group in the ordinary sense of the term’. The Professorial Board appointed a Committee, chaired by Professor Don Cochrane, Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Politics, to report on the desirability of establishing a Bureau of Aboriginal Affairs. The Committee endorsed Tatz’s proposal, but suggested that the name be changed to ‘Aboriginal Research Centre’; this was later changed to ‘Centre for Research into Aboriginal Affairs’ (CRAA), a name that more accurately reflected the Centre’s proposed activities.

Matheson approved the establishment of four Centres during his time as Vice Chancellor. The first, in early 1964, was the Centre of South East Asian Studies, proposed by Foundation Professor of History, J.D. Legge. The CRAA was the second. Formally constituted by a resolution of the University Council on 14 December 1964, its stated purpose was ‘to undertake itself, and to stimulate elsewhere, research into such fields as Aboriginal demography, legal status, health, education, employment, vocational training, housing, and social change; and to publish the results of its research’. The Centre was also to provide ‘information on matters relating to Aborigines’. A notice announcing the Centre’s establishment appeared in newspapers around the country. Among the first to offer congratulations on Monash’s initiative was Dr Charles Duguid, a South Australianbased campaigner for Aboriginal rights who offered to ‘give whatever

by a resolution of the University Council on 14 December 1964, its stated purpose was ‘to undertake itself, and to stimulate elsewhere, research into such fields as Aboriginal demography, legal status, health, education, employment, vocational training, housing, and social change; and to publish the results of its research’. The Centre was also to provide ‘information on matters relating to Aborigines’. A notice announcing the Centre’s establishment appeared in newspapers around the country. Among the first to offer congratulations on Monash’s initiative was Dr Charles Duguid, a South Australianbased campaigner for Aboriginal rights who offered to ‘give whatever

by a resolution of the University Council on 14 December 1964, its stated purpose was ‘to undertake itself, and to stimulate elsewhere, research into such fields as Aboriginal demography, legal status, health, education, employment, vocational training, housing, and social change; and to publish the results of its research’. The Centre was also to provide ‘information on matters relating to Aborigines’. A notice announcing the Centre’s establishment appeared in newspapers around the country. Among the first to offer congratulations on Monash’s initiative was Dr Charles Duguid, a South Australianbased campaigner for Aboriginal rights who offered to ‘give whatever

by a resolution of the University Council on 14 December 1964, its stated purpose was ‘to undertake itself, and to stimulate elsewhere, research into such fields as Aboriginal demography, legal status, health, education, employment, vocational training, housing, and social change; and to publish the results of its research’. The Centre was also to provide ‘information on matters relating to Aborigines’. A notice announcing the Centre’s establishment appeared in newspapers around the country. Among the first to offer congratulations on Monash’s initiative was Dr Charles Duguid, a South Australianbased campaigner for Aboriginal rights who offered to ‘give whatever help I can’. Duguid was keen to share his wisdom, gained over forty years of campaigning, but what the Centre really needed was financial help. In recommending the establishment of the Centre, the Professorial Board had agreed that it ‘should not call upon the University for funds other than the use of the services of Mr Tatz and some secretarial help to be provided by the Faculty of Economics and Politics’. It was up to the Centre – which meant it was up to Tatz – to ‘seek assistance from outside sources for research projects’.


Colin Tatz

Source: Colin Tatz

In the beginning, Tatz was the Centre, although officially only half of his time was devoted to it, the other half being taken up with lecturing duties. The Professorial Board recommended that an Advisory Board, comprising Monash and non-Monash members, be appointed to advise on the scope and functions of the Centre, and that Tatz ‘should act as provisional secretary of the Centre and the Advisory Board and be charged with its general administration’. Representatives of governmental, mission and private interests concerned with Aboriginal affairs were approached to serve as members of the Advisory Board, including: Reverend Frank Engel, secretary, National Missionary Council; Professor R.H. Black, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, University of Sydney; Joseph McGinness, president, Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement; George Warwick Smith, secretary, Commonwealth Department of Territories; and Charles Rowley, Director of the SSRC Aborigines Project. The first meeting of the twenty-member Board was scheduled for October 1965, some ten months after the establishment of the Centre. In the meantime the work of the Centre commenced with the Monash members of the Advisory Board acting as an executive. The Chairman of the Professorial Board Committee, Cochrane, became Chairman of the Centre’s Advisory Board. Other Monash members included: Professors R.R. Andrews (Dean, Faculty of Medicine), F.R. Beasley (Faculty of Law), S.R. Davis (Politics), A.J. Marshall (Zoology), and M.G. Marwick (Anthropology and Sociology), and Drs Ian Turner (History), and Tatz.

Tatz’s official title was changed from ‘provisional secretary’ to ‘executive officer’ at the first executive meeting of Centre’s Advisory Board in April 1965. The meeting’s minutes prompted a prickly response from Jim Butchart, Deputy Registrar, who questioned Tatz’s authority to restyle himself thus, and criticised the provisional secretary (namely Tatz) for the overly discursive style of the minutes which were ‘not nearly punctilious enough’. At this early stage in the life of the Centre, Butchart was anxious that the ‘paperwork should not get out of gear’. He was not, however, ‘anxious … to get into the act’ with Tatz; rather he expected Cochrane, as chairman of the Centre’s Board, to bring Tatz into line. Rebuking Butchart instead, Cochrane made it clear that Tatz’s new title was ‘intentional’, that errors could easily be fixed, and that the style of the minutes was ‘the most appropriate and … most helpful’ for the members of the Centre’s Board given its organisational structure. When Tatz assumed the title of ‘Director’ in 1967, no objections were raised.

Fifteen-year old Sue McLean (later Stevenson), a junior stenographer in the politics department, performed secretarial duties for Tatz and the Centre from 1965. The embryonic Centre’s numbers grew that year when Elizabeth Eggleston joined the team. A Melbourne lawyer, Eggleston read about the Centre’s establishment in the Age; she got in touch with Tatz who convinced her to undertake a PhD on Aboriginal people and the law. Supervised by Professor David Derham, Dean of Law, and mentored by Tatz, Eggleston was based in the Law school, but she was drawn in to CRAA activities by Tatz’s relentless pursuit of justice for Aboriginal people. With Professor Louis Waller, Faculty of Law, Colin Campbell, a local barrister, and Eggleston, Tatz devised an unofficial legal aid system for Aboriginal people in Victoria that was run out of the CRAA. They mimeographed ‘thousands of little pamphlets … [on] “What to do when arrested”’ which they distributed among Aboriginal communities. The number of phone calls Tatz received from police across the state, sometimes in the middle of the night, and from Aboriginal people exercising their right to legal representation was, for him, proof of the scheme’s success.

Other ‘action research’ initiatives followed. In 1965 Tatz became the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League’s representative on the Victorian government’s Aborigines Welfare Board. Approached for assistance in developing a research program relating to the health of Victorian Aboriginal communities, he coordinated negotiations between the Victorian Health Department, the Aborigines Welfare Board and Monash academics that resulted in the launch of a systematic study aimed at improving Aboriginal health to be run out of the Centre. The Faculty of Medicine contributed funds towards the employment of a researcher on the project, however staffing issues saw the project deferred during 1966. With assistance from the Australian Research Grants Committee (ARGC) in 1966–67, and help from researchers at the ANU, a statistical analysis of the Victorian Aboriginal population was undertaken that showed it to be more than twice as large as previously thought. In contrast to the official census conducted in 1966 which produced a figure of 1750 persons, the Centre’s survey concluded that there were at least 4400 Aboriginal people in Victoria. Tatz intended to utilise this new demographic information in a revised health study, but other projects took precedence and it was not until the 1970s that health returned to the Centre’s agenda.

A small grant from the SSRC Aborigines Project enabled Tatz and Professor Fred Gruen, an agricultural economist, to undertake research into Aboriginal employment on cattle stations in Northern Australia during 1965. Rowley, in authorising the grant, anticipated that the research would feed into his work, and would also result in a seminar on Aboriginal employment to be run by the Centre. The timing was propitious. In February 1965 the North Australian Workers Union lodged an application with the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to vary the Cattle Station Industry (NT) Award, 1951 to include Aboriginal pastoral workers. The Commission heard evidence in Alice Springs in the winter of 1965 and delivered its decision in March the following year, granting equal wages to Aboriginal people in the pastoral industry, but delaying their implementation until 1968.

On 23–25 May 1966, the Centre hosted a residential seminar on ‘The Problems of Aboriginal Employment, Wages and Training’ at Monash. Reflecting Tatz’s goal of inclusivity, sixty participants were involved, only one-third of whom were academics with the remainder representing other interests: state and federal Aboriginal departments (fourteen people); mining, pastoral, missionary and parliamentary interests (thirteen people); trade unions (three people); and Aboriginal welfare and advancement groups (ten people, including six Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders). Writing to congratulate the Vice Chancellor on his sponsorship of the seminar, Diane Barwick observed that it was ‘the first occasion on which government officials, academics and representatives of unions, church missions and welfare organisations [had] been brought together to exchange views’. An anthropologist at the ANU, Barwick felt that ‘the opportunity to meet and discuss informally’ was as important as the ‘new information provided in the papers and general discussion’. The highlight for Tatz was watching Aboriginal leaders – Jacob Abednego, Joe McGinness, Kath Walker, Charles Perkins, Bert Groves and John Moriarty – talk with people ‘whom they had hitherto known [only] as names on paper’. The outcome was the creation of ‘a bridge of communication between parties’ who typically ignored or ‘publicly [condemned] the action or point of view of the other’. Secretary of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Stan Davey felt that only a university could have achieved such an outcome, for had any other interest group attempted such a feat it would have failed: ‘Emotions run high and suspicion is a constant barrier’. Echoing Davey, Ian Spalding, editor of the journal On Aboriginal Affairs, felt that the seminar demonstrated the extent to which universities could contribute ‘to research and policy leadership in this important but neglected area’.

The Wages and Employment seminar put the CRAA on the map, raising its public and official profile. Amid growing concerns about the Centre’s capacity to sustain its workload, Tatz began making plans for a second seminar. The Centre’s Advisory Board encouraged him to finish his current projects before incurring any further commitments, but that was not how Tatz operated. An equally successful seminar on ‘Aboriginal Education’ was held in 1967. Both seminars resulted in publications that further boosted the Centre’s profile and remained standards in the literature for years to come: Aborigines in the Economy: Employment, Wages and Training (edited by Ian Sharp and Tatz), and Aborigines and Education (edited by Sydney Dunn and Tatz).

During the Centre’s first year of operation, Tatz had approached several large philanthropic bodies for financial support, but without success. In the wake of the Wages and Employment and Education seminars, he approached the Bernard van Leer Foundation, a charitable organisation based in the Netherlands, for funding for a project on Aboriginal pre-schools in Victoria. Established with broad humanitarian goals in the aftermath of World War Two, the Bernard van Leer Foundation had shifted its focus to young children and education in the mid 1960s, and had funded its first international project (in Jamaica) in 1966. Tatz, in his capacity as a member of the Victorian Aborigines Welfare Board, knew that the Foundation was looking for projects to fund.

Detailing the need for Aboriginal pre-schools, Tatz argued that preschool training would increase Aboriginal ‘children’s powers of self-expression and enrich their social experience’ leading to ‘better school performance and increased social adaptability’. More than that, he claimed that effective preschool training could act as a vehicle for ‘reconciliation between Aboriginal and European values’, providing Aboriginal children ‘with functional, learned responses to cope with the crisis of cultural identification’ which occurred frequently at adolescence. Tatz imagined preschools where Aboriginal children would have ‘alongside their standard picture books, pictures and books of famous men and great legends of their own people, tribal and acculturated’. The time was ripe for action. The Victorian government, having previously had no specific policy on Aboriginal preschools, had committed funds to the building of three preschools in Aboriginal communities at Lake Tyers, Rumalara Settlement and Swan Hill. The Centre for Research into Aboriginal Affairs wished to play an active role in the devising of programs and evaluation of needs and results at these facilities, Tatz explained, for ‘should a carefully planned and evaluated project show tangible results, an important breakthrough in Aboriginal education will have been achieved’.

On the grounds that such an evaluation would need to take place over three years, and would attract personnel, equipment and travel costs, Tatz requested a grant of $44,650. His request was approved. A six-month investigatory period – during which the parameters of the three-year program would be defined, and for which additional funding was provided (bringing the total grant up to $50,000) – was set up in the first instance. Subsequently, Tatz and his research assistant, Lorna Lippman visited New Zealand where Lex Grey of the Maori Education Fellowship had established play-centres in which Maori mothers were the teachers. This was the model Tatz wished to employ in Victoria, but other forces prevailed, resulting in the establishment of more traditional kindergartens.

In 1967 the Centre – which by then comprised Tatz, Lippman, McLean, and Eggleston – moved from the Faculty of Economics and Politics to the Department of Anthropology and Sociology. The year 1967 was a big one in Aboriginal affairs, and a critical one for the Centre. In May a referendum was held which cleared the way for the Commonwealth to make special laws in relation to Aboriginal people. One outcome of the referendum was the establishment of the Council for Aboriginal Affairs (CAA), an advisory body comprising Dr H.C. ‘Nugget’ Coombs, former governor of the Reserve Bank; Professor W.E.H Stanner, a respected anthropologist; and Barrie Dexter, a senior public servant and former diplomat. The Council, which operated out of the newly established Office of Aboriginal Affairs (OAA) located within the Prime Minister’s Department, was intended to provide government with expert advice on Aboriginal affairs. A request from Matheson for financial assistance for the Centre was sitting on Coombs desk when he took up his position as Chair of the CAA. The Vice Chancellor’s request was denied. This coupled with the University’s experience in connection with financing the Centre’s two residential seminars (it had contributed nearly $5000 from recurrent funds), led Matheson to conclude that Monash ‘must either finance [the] Centre … or abandon it’. Despite the magnitude of the van Leer grant, its funds were tied to research associated with the preschool project and could not be used to finance the Centre. Since there was no longer any point in ‘pretending’ that it could be conducted without cost to the University, Matheson declared that the time had come to consider ‘the future of the Centre’.

The Centre’s Future

As a first step, it was decided to change the composition of the Centre’s Advisory Board so as to include only members of staff at Monash University thereby reducing the costs associated with bringing people to Melbourne for Board meetings. This also brought the Centre more into line with other Centres at Monash, and made the Board less ‘unwieldy’. Further, ‘in view of the financial situation’ and the likely absence of Tatz who was due to go on study leave, it was decided that no seminar would be conducted in 1968. Tatz spent the first few months of 1968 in New Zealand, and the latter half on sabbatical in Canada. Before leaving for Canada, he met with Coombs and Dexter, both of whom ‘indicated considerable interest in the Centre’s work and future’, according to Tatz. ‘They expressed a desire to see the Centre remain viable’, he explained to Matheson, but were constrained in their ability to help for ‘fear of other universities making similar requests’. Tatz’s priority was to secure funding sufficient to cover Lippman’s salary, a task he achieved by convincing Coombs and Dexter to commission the Centre to do a piece of contract research.

The Centre’s future was still uncertain in 1969. Concerned to clarify the University’s position, Matheson asked the Centre’s Board to prepare answers to the following questions:

1. Should the Centre continue and, if so, in what form?

2. Has the work so far performed by the Centre fulfilled the original objects or does experience suggest that the aim of the Centre should be now changed?

3. What staff and budget will be required for the Centre to function in the preferred manner?

4. What should be the relationship between the Centre and the Department of Anthropology and Sociology?

5. Is it possible for the Director to be a full-time member of the Department staff, devoting to the Centre the time that he would normally have available for personal research?

In private communication with the new Chairman of the Centre’s Board, Professor M.G. Swift, Matheson made it clear that he was most anxious ‘to make sure that the Centre really is doing a sound job which really justifies any budget that the Board of the Centre may recommend’.

At a special meeting of the Centre’s Board in September 1969 it was agreed that there were ‘grounds for continuing the Centre’; that the staffing of the Centre should be half of Tatz’s time, a full-time clerical assistant and a research assistant; that Tatz and the clerical assistant should be financed from University central funds, and that additional university funds be supplied to meet stationary, travel and accommodation expenses; and that financial assistance be sought from the OAA to meet the costs of a research assistant and national seminar program. However, this view was not put to the Professorial Board, and so was not relayed via official channels to Matheson, because of uncertainty over Tatz’s position. Tatz was offered a Chair in Politics at the University of Waikato (New Zealand) at the end of 1969, but turned it down in favour of a position at the University of New England (Armidale, New South Wales) which, by February 1970, looked unlikely to eventuate: ‘Happily I’m not going anywhere’, Tatz trumpeted.

While awaiting the Board’s official response on the matter of the Centre’s future, Matheson was approached by the National ABSCHOL Director, Ian Langman, who complimented Monash’s leadership in the study of Aboriginal Affairs. A committee of the National Union of Australian University Students, ABSCHOL was set up during the 1960s to support university scholarships for Aboriginal students. The federal government introduced the Aboriginal Study Grants Scheme (ABSTUDY) for Aboriginal students in tertiary studies from the beginning of the academic year in 1969. However, when it became apparent that the lack of applications for both schemes was due to the lack of suitably qualified Aboriginal students, ABSCHOL began encouraging Aboriginal tertiary education in other ways, such as by ‘calling on all universities to set up centres for study into Aboriginal Affairs’. Unaware of the Centre’s precarious state, Langman implored Matheson to urge his colleagues on the Australian Vice-Chancellor’s Committee to establish units like the CRAA ‘in their own universities’.

In early 1970, in a widely publicised address to the Sydney University Liberal Club, the federal Minister in charge of Aboriginal Affairs, W.C. (Bill) Wentworth criticised Australian universities for their lack of interest in Aboriginal studies and problems. Calling on universities to devote more of their energies ‘towards the academic side of the problem’, Wentworth declared: ‘Academic study is not divorced from welfare. It has a practical value.’ Tatz could not have agreed more. He drew Matheson’s attention to press reports of Wentworth’s speech and announced that, after months of negotiation, the OAA had finally ‘crystallized its policy towards the Centre’, selecting it ‘as an appropriate body’ to undertake research of interest to government. The OAA wanted the Centre’s (or more accurately Tatz’s) assistance in developing a comprehensive Aboriginal Studies program. Tatz saw this as a clear sign that the Centre should continue and was ‘thrilled’ that his hard work had paid off. He expected Matheson to feel the same, but the Vice Chancellor’s reaction was cool. Matheson wanted to know the Board’s official position on the Centre’s long-term future before any decisions regarding new projects were made.

The Centre’s Board met in March 1970. Tempering Tatz’s enthusiasm, the Board expressed a ‘cautious willingness to proceed’. The research conducted by members of the Centre, the service provided to outside bodies, and the role the Centre had played in ‘seeking solutions to problems of social relevance which might not [otherwise] receive proper attention if judged solely by their academic significance’ were all presented as reasons for continuing the Centre. However, Chairman of the Board, Swift, wanted the Centre to play a more ‘central part within Monash’; this was in response to an observation, expressed by Matheson, that most of the research on Aboriginal issues undertaken by staff at Monash was ‘conducted independently of the Centre’. Although Tatz took exception to this statement (which he read, somewhat dramatically, as signaling the end of the Centre), a major program of inter-disciplinary seminars involving staff with ‘an active or specialised interest in some aspect of Aboriginal life’ from across the university was added to the Centre’s list of activities for the forthcoming year.

More troubling was the question of the Centre’s financial viability. Stevenson recalled that Tatz ‘spent an inordinate amount of time in the early years trying to get funds to keep the Centre going’. This is reflected in the records of the Centre’s Board. Swift openly acknowledged that the question of funding had been ‘problematic’ since the Centre’s inception. Although inaugurated on the premise that central funding from the University would not be sought, this premise had never been maintained. With insufficient funds coming from outside sources, host departments – first Economics and Politics, later Anthropology and Sociology – had provided support for administrative expenses. The Board resolved therefore to ask the OAA for an annual grant of $1000 to cover administrative expenses. Should this request be denied, the Board suggested a more equitable sharing of the burden across the university, reasoning that ‘because of its inter-disciplinary nature, all faculties concerned should be asked to contribute at least small sums annually’ for the maintenance of the Centre. Regardless, the Board felt that the Centre’s work was of ‘sufficient importance’ to merit ongoing University support, ‘especially in the light of the relatively small sum needed’. It was estimated that $11,175 was required to keep the Centre alive, being the annual cost of one-half of a Director’s salary, and the salaries of a full-time clerical assistant and full-time research assistant. Previously the cost of a research assistant had not formed part of the universities financial burden, being paid for by grants from the OAA. However, in light of the potential new opportunities accruing in connection with the OAA, asking more of the university probably seemed only fair.

The burgeoning relationship between the Centre and the Office of Aboriginal Affairs was given as a further reason to continue the Centre. More circumspect than Tatz, Swift noted in his report that it ‘would seem that a sound relationship has been established’ with the OAA. Swift was right to be cautious, as much of this relationship was built on potential promises and tentative undertakings between Tatz and Dexter, now Director of the OAA. Tatz’s trusting nature, optimism, and faith in the Centre’s future blinded him to the weakness of linking the Centre’s future so firmly to the OAA. Other Board members, including Swift, were swayed by his confidence and by their own desire to believe in a positive outcome, Swift reporting that the Centre’s Board ‘welcomed two new projects, both of which may be wholly financed by the Office’: the Aboriginal Studies Syllabus project flagged earlier by Tatz, and a History Project on white-Aboriginal relations in the Riverina area. While plans were also mooted for a third national seminar, this time on Aboriginal Health (for which financial assistance from the OAA would also be sought), much hope hung on the two new projects, especially the Aboriginal Studies Syllabus Project which was forecast to bring more than $20,000 to Monash.

On 19 May 1970, Dexter wrote to Tatz asking whether the OAA could be represented on the Centre’s Board. The wording of his request was significant: ‘I have been wondering, whether, in view of our increasing contact with your Centre, there would be any advantage in my Office being represented on the Centre’s Board.’ The extent to which Dexter identified Tatz with the Centre was telling, and would prove important in the days and weeks to come. Although Dexter made it clear that the OAA’s ‘continued interest in and support of the Centre in no way’ depended on this arrangement, it was not an offer Tatz or the University could refuse. A second letter from Dexter arrived that day, bearing the news that Wentworth had approved a grant to cover the Centre’s administrative expenses to June 1971. This was good news indeed, for the Committee of Deans had rejected the idea of cross-faculty financial support.

Within days of these communications, Tatz had been offered the foundation Chair of Politics at the University of New England and had decided, regretfully, to leave Monash. It was not an easy decision to make. Tatz felt a ‘moral obligation’ to the CRAA, but believed that ‘it had been taken as far as it could go within the framework of the existing university policy and budgeting ability’. After informing the Vice Chancellor of his decision, Tatz’s job was to tell Dexter. Matheson wanted Tatz to convey a clear message that while Monash would ‘try and keep the Centre going at a modest level … budgetary pressure would prevent our doing anything more unless outside funding could be found’. Putting it more bluntly, Matheson remarked that ‘if the Commonwealth wanted to keep [the Centre] going it had better make a regular grant for the Director’s salary’. This was a new development, brought about, in all likelihood, by Tatz’s disclosure that the proposed grant from the OAA for the Aboriginal Syllabus project had been seen by the OAA as a ‘grant to Tatz: it was not a Centre project’. It had been represented as a Centre project, Tatz explained, ‘because the Office could not make grants to individuals’ and so had ‘intended to offer the funds to Monash for distribution to the individual researcher’. However, as a consequence of Tatz’s move to Armidale, it was ‘probable that this grant [would] now be offered to New England’.

Tatz met with Dexter at the end of May. His subsequent report to Matheson was uncharacteristically brief. Dexter, Tatz reported, ‘felt strongly that the Centre should continue’. On the question of the OAA contributing to the salary of a new director, Tatz quoted Dexter as saying ‘“that doesn’t frighten me in the least”’. Such hearsay assertions of support were no longer enough. Matheson wanted ‘a clear understanding … with the [OAA] on what financial allocations could be relied on’; he wanted proof of support, and he wanted it to come from a source other than Tatz. Matheson asked the new chairman of the Centre’s Board, Professor Basil Hetzel to invite Dexter for ‘a private discussion … in order to discover his confidential view on the future of the Centre’. In the meantime, given Tatz’s assurance that he ‘had no intention of starting another Centre’ at New England, the Centre’s Board resolved that, to be effective, the Centre needed a full-time Director and an upgraded secretary, as well as appropriate funds for research and other activities. Hetzel secured the Vice Chancellor’s agreement to provide half the estimated budget of $15,000 on the condition that the other half was provided by the OAA.

Dexter endorsed this plan, but final approval rested with the Minister. When, in November 1970, Wentworth had still not signed off on the agreement, and Dexter reported that ‘communication with his Minister [was] well nigh impossible’, Tatz, ever the pragmatist, suggested a new plan. If the worst came to the worst, the Centre, he claimed, could make do – ‘albeit in a crippled way’ – on the University’s contribution alone, an annual budget of $7500 being just enough to cover the cost of a secretary and half of a new Director’s salary. Tatz, who was due to leave Monash in less than a month’s time, presented this as a matter of urgency to the Budget Office, the Committee of Deans and the Vice Chancellor. He was adamant that his successor needed to be named, and funds made available if the Centre was to continue. Uncomfortable with the feeling of being ‘rushed’, the University deferred its decision while awaiting the Minister’s response.

A telegram from Dexter arrived at the beginning of December: ‘MINISTER IN CHARGE HAS DECIDED NOT REPEAT NOT TO CONTRIBUTE TO CENTRE’S COSTS’. Matheson found the Minister’s decision ‘both surprising and … very disappointing’. With Tatz gone, and the hoped for funds unforthcoming, his immediate reaction was to close the Centre. Informed that plans were already in train for a conference on Aboriginal Health to be held in 1972, he reversed his decision, but allocated a mere $5000 towards the running of the Centre in 1971 and 1972, being just enough to allow the Centre to continue its operation on a ‘minimum scale’. The most important reason for the Minister’s refusal to endorse the proposed grant, Matheson later learned, was his ‘reluctance to assume responsibility of an indefinite duration’. Rather than continue to rely on grants from the government, Dexter advised the Vice Chancellor that it was ‘really for Monash University itself to decide whether it wishes to continue the Centre’. If the Centre was to continue past 1972, and this was by no means certain, Matheson was adamant that the ‘old boy methods’ employed by Tatz would have to be replaced ‘by more formal communications’. Things were about to change.

Making a Difference: Fifty Years of Indigenous Programs at Monash University, 1964–2014

   by Rani Kerin