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

Chapter 2

EMBEDDING AND EXPANDING, 1971–76

The 1970s witnessed profound changes in the administration and politicisation of Aboriginal affairs. Shifts in thinking occurred as new paradigms emerged to replace previous policies and practices of assimilation. New Aboriginal leaders, many adopting the rhetoric of the US Black Power movement, embraced new forms of protest, new goals and new ideals, symbolised in the raising of tents at Parliament House in Canberra in 1972 in protest over Land Rights. Old political alliances were questioned as Aboriginal activists sought ‘black control of black affairs’. The impact of these changes on Monash’s Centre for Research into Aboriginal Affairs during the first half of the decade was felt mainly in the growing emphasis the new Director, Dr Elizabeth Eggleston, placed on consulting and involving Aboriginal people in the work of the Centre. Eggleston was Director of the CRAA for just five years (ten months of which were spent in North America on study leave). What she managed to achieve during that time was nothing short of remarkable. She inherited a Centre on the brink of being closed, an ‘emergency operation’ functioning on a minimum budget with minimum staff; within four years she was Director of a Centre with a surplus that was being spent on employing Aboriginal research assistants. Plans were in place for the appointment of a full-time Director when news of her terrible illness broke in January 1976; she died of cancer three months later.

The daughter of future Monash Chancellor Sir Richard Eggleston, Elizabeth Eggleston was appointed Director of the CRAA on a halftime basis in April 1971, and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law, also on a half-time basis, at the same time. Lorna Lippman’s services were retained as research officer and Sue McLean, now Stevenson, continued as secretary. As Director, Eggleston’s duties included: the administration of the Centre; the stimulation of research into Aboriginal Affairs at Monash; the general coordination of Aboriginal Affairs research in various departments and faculties; the conduct of both national and internal seminars and workshops; general supervision of postgraduate students; and the conduct of her own personal research. Eggleston, newly minted PhD in hand, was relatively inexperienced in academic administration, but her credentials were otherwise excellent. A graduate of the University of Melbourne (BA, LLB Hons) and Berkeley (LLM), Eggleston’s interest in Aboriginal affairs was sparked following a visit to a Native American reservation. It made a deep and lasting impression on her, not least because it made her aware of how little she knew about Australia’s Aboriginal people. On her return to Australia, Eggleston worked as a solicitor in Melbourne for three years before commencing a PhD on Aborigines and the law at Monash where she was supervised by Professor David Derham, Dean of Law, and Professor Louis Waller, and mentored by Dr Colin Tatz. The infant Law School’s first doctoral scholar, she was appointed a lecturer in the Faculty of Law at Monash at the end of 1969. When she became Director of the CRAA, it moved to the Law School with her.

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Elizabeth Eggleston

Source: Monash Archives

Eggleston brought to the job of Director a different skill set, personality and temperament to Tatz. Where Tatz was confident and outspoken, Eggleston was quiet and unassuming. Secretary to both Directors, Stevenson described Eggleston as ‘solid [and] … very calm’; she never got ‘excited about anything, or angry about anything’. Several of Eggleston’s referees for the position of Director commented on her tendency to ‘underrate her own abilities’ and ‘undervalue her own work’. Derham regarded her ‘diffidence about her own talents’ as a limitation that resulted in her being ‘more retiring’ than she needed to be, yet this proved advantageous in her relationships with Aboriginal people. Unthreatening, Eggleston was able to move easily among Aboriginal communities who profited from her experience in a wide range of legal matters. During the course of her PhD candidature, she spent time among Aboriginal communities in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, studying the actual workings of the law in places where Aborigines lived. She took the ‘time and trouble’, Waller recalled, ‘to seek representation for Aborigines charged with offences, to find witnesses, to listen to their stories’. ‘Tireless, conscientious and meticulous’, Eggleston was absolutely devoted to her work. While these qualities stood her in good stead for the job ahead, it was her experience working with Tatz which most recommended her for the position of Director. Apart from Tatz himself, Eggleston was the ‘person best acquainted with the Centre’s work’. Further, as the recipient of a large ARGC grant, she brought both funds and status to the position.

Eggleston’s first task as Director was not a pleasant one. At the request of the Vice Chancellor, she was asked to question Tatz about the ‘whereabouts of books and other material formerly located in the Centre’. The inference that Tatz had taken books belonging to the Centre was quickly overturned; Tatz had only removed books that were his personal possessions. However, in doing so he had effectively removed the Centre’s library, Eggleston reported, since his collection had ‘formerly constituted the Centre library’. With ‘no budgeting provision … ever made for buying books’, Tatz had lent his books to students privately, and Eggleston planned to continue the same practice, taking out subscriptions (at her own expense) to periodicals of local Aboriginal groups and using her own books as the basis of a renewed Centre library. The fact remained, however, that the Centre did not have a library. More precisely, Eggleston insisted that ‘a few books, a collection of press cuttings, pamphlets and whatever else can be obtained free does not constitute an adequate library’. Eggleston was adamant that the Centre needed a library; pushing for one became a feature of her Directorship that, sadly, was achieved as a memorial to her after her untimely death.

Eggleston began her efficient administration by implementing the recommendations for an internal seminar series made towards the end of Tatz’s reign. A program of nine interdisciplinary seminars was arranged in 1971. In 1972, the papers presented the previous year were compiled into a booklet that was duplicated for sale around the University; 500 copies were made and sold for $1 each. During 1973, the monthly seminars attracted attendees of up to 120 persons, ‘indicating a widespread interest in Aboriginal and racial affairs’. The list of speakers and topics that year included: Charles Rowley, ‘Aborigines Enter Politics: Aboriginal Organisations and non-Aboriginal Resistance’; Bruce McGuiness, ‘Urban Aborigines: The Identity Crisis’; Barry Dexter, ‘The Role of an Aboriginal Agency’; and Frank Stevens, speaking on ‘The Future of Aboriginal Labour in North Australia’. Eggleston herself presented a paper on ‘American Indians Confront the Law’. The following year, at Eggleston’s invitation, guest presenters from North America provided first-hand insights from Native America and Inuit communities. Further expanding the Centre’s profile, Eggleston lectured on Aboriginal affairs to students across the University, and participated in forums conducted by ABSCOL. With Lippman, she also gave presentations to Aboriginal organisations and other non-university bodies.

The Centre’s relationship with the Commonwealth Government had soured somewhat in the wake of the funding debacle in 1970. While not forsaking the Commonwealth Government, new avenues of funding and bases of support were sought. In her first few months as Director, Eggleston initiated a meeting with the Victorian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, E.R. Meagher. Attended by the Vice Chancellor, the Chairman of the Centre’s Board, Professor Basil Hetzel, and Eggleston, the meeting was convened for the purpose of acquainting Meagher with the Centre’s activities. Whereas Tatz had served on the Victorian Aborigines Welfare Board and had thereby maintained formal connections with the goings-on of Aboriginal affairs at a local level, the Board was disbanded in 1968, which meant that new connections had to be made, and new avenues for working together explored. One way Eggleston did this was by visiting Aboriginal people in prison. A member of the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League (VAAL), Eggleston, together with other League members, was involved in the running of discussion groups for Aboriginal prisoners at Pentridge.

The unofficial legal aid service for Aboriginal people that Eggleston, Tatz, Professor Louis Waller and Colin Campbell had set up in 1965 became more formalised and moved away from the CRAA (see Chapter 1). In 1971, law students at Monash University and the University of Melbourne established a legal referral service for Aborigines that was run through the VAAL with Eggleston acting as an advisor to the students. The following year, while teaching a legal aid seminar that highlighted the needs of Aboriginal people, she co-founded (with Stewart Murray, Merle Jackomos, Geraldine Briggs, Louis Waller and others) the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service. These and other similar activities demonstrated the Centre’s unique ability to provide an ‘academic contribution to the urgent needs of the Aboriginal people’, and helped to win the confidence of the Victorian Aboriginal community.

Meanwhile, plans for the forthcoming national seminar on Aboriginal Health Services continued apace. Sponsorship was obtained from the Victorian Department of Aboriginal Affairs, the Secondary Schools Aboriginal Fund and Myer. The Commonwealth government also provided funds, but only after agreement about the contents of the seminar was reached. Health was Hetzel’s area of expertise. The Foundation Professor of Social and Preventative Medicine at Monash, Hetzel envisioned the seminar as an exercise in ‘social engineering, involving people other than health professionals, who nonetheless are very much involved in improved delivery of health care and preventative care to the Aboriginal people’.

Held over three days in May 1972, the CRAA’s Aboriginal Health Services seminar was opened by the Commonwealth Minister, Peter Howson. Like previous seminars, speakers included officers of government departments, church missions, academics, medical practitioners, social workers, and others. Twenty Aboriginal people participated in the event. The seminar made a series of strongly worded recommendations, beginning with a statement about the importance of racial pride: ‘in any programme of health care the integrity of Aboriginal people is crucial, therefore every attempt must be made to foster a sense of solidarity and dignity so that Aboriginal identity can be preserved and promoted.’ Followed by a statement about Aboriginal involvement in Aboriginal health services – ‘health programmes [must] be planned in consultation with the Aboriginal communities they are designed to serve … and carried out through the people themselves and their community leaders’ – the influence of Aboriginal participants at the seminar was clear. Before ‘self-determination’ became the catch-cry of Aboriginal affairs, the recommendations of the CRAA’s Aboriginal Health Services seminar show the desire of Aboriginal people to be self-managing. Interestingly (and importantly given how little scholarly historical research had been conducted at this point) the third recommendation revealed a nascent yet clear understanding of the historical, political and structural underpinnings of racism and its effects on Aboriginal health:

3. The current disastrous health situation is a by-product of the complexity and diversity of an Aboriginal society under pressure of European society. It is a total community problem and not primarily one of individual health. A strategy to meet this problem requires a comprehensive approach including a drastic improvement in education, housing and economic opportunity as well as health services.

The Aboriginal Health Services seminar underpinned changes in Aboriginal Health policy in Canberra in 1973, and resulted in the publication, Better Health for Aborigines.

The success of the Aboriginal Health Services seminar, like the seminars on Wages and Employment (1966), and Education (1967) before it, reinforced the CRAA’s role as an ‘action research’ body, raised its public profile, and helped to validate and strengthen Monash’s continued support for the Centre. In the wake of the seminar, the University agreed to provide just over half of the estimated $20,000 annual budget the Centre needed to continue its operations. A request for a modest grant of $1800 to cover the cost of administrative expenses was lodged with the Commonwealth Office of Aboriginal Affairs (OAA). Although similar sums had been provided in the past, the request was denied. Informing the Centre’s acting chairman, Professor Scott, of this decision, Barrie Dexter, Director of the OAA, explained that such grants would not be continued, and restated his advice that it was ‘really for Monash University itself to decide whether it wished to continue the Centre, and if so to make appropriate financial provision for it’. What the Centre needed to do, Dexter firmly asserted, was ‘live within the annual budget provided by the University’.

The impact of Dexter’s strongly worded communication was lessened somewhat by the change of government that occurred within weeks of its receipt. After twenty-three years of conservative rule, the arrival of a Labor government signaled the hope of change and reform. Even Monash’s Committee of Deans smelled change in the air, remaining calm when noting the appreciable shortfall in the Centre’s funds due to the Commonwealth’s retraction of funding, for ‘it was thought that the recent change of government might result in a review of this decision’. The Whitlam government established several new departments soon after taking office, one of which was the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. The new Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Gordon Bryant, was well known for taking a sympathetic interest in Aboriginal issues. Prior to becoming Minister, he had been an office bearer in the VAAL and the Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement. He was aware of the Centre’s work and keen to provide assistance. Within months of taking office Bryant approved a grant of $4000 per annum for three years to ‘enable the work of the Centre to proceed with a capacity for long-term planning of projects’, and indicated that he was prepared to consider providing further assistance for ‘special projects’ as well. As part of the deal, Lippman was seconded as a consultant to the Minister.

Bryant’s largesse was met with excitement and activity; immediately plans began being drawn up for the expansion of the Centre’s work. Three new activities were proposed: ‘Black Australian Studies’ – a course for credit for undergraduates; ‘Studies in Aboriginal Culture’ – a course to be offered through the Centre for Continuing Education at Monash; and the development of an ‘Aboriginal Resources Centre’. Inspired by the Minister’s enthusiasm, Eggleston’s larger vision was to use these three new initiatives, together with the CRAA’s existing program of research and internal and residential seminars, as the ‘foundation for the development of the Centre into the first “Race Relations Centre” in Australia’.

Expansion Plans

Outlining the ‘felt need’ for an undergraduate course in Black Australian Studies, Eggleston pointed to the high attendance rate at the CRAA’s monthly seminars and the desire for such a course expressed by Aboriginal groups and individuals. Many Aboriginal people, she claimed, had ‘been pressing for the inclusion of Black Australian Studies in one, at least, of the Australian universities as an indication of their cultural distinction from the major society and the contribution which they have made and are making to it’. Given Monash’s role in establishing the CRAA, it seemed ‘fitting’ that it ‘should be the first Australian university to present such a course’. Unbeknown to Eggleston, Dr John Hirst at La Trobe University in Melbourne’s west commenced teaching Australian Aboriginal History in 1973 in response to current events.

Courses in Aboriginal Studies had also been run at Teachers’ Colleges in Adelaide (1968), Bendigo (1973), and Armidale. Eggleston was aware of the course at Armidale. Run in 1971 and 1972, it had been initiated by Tatz. One of the main criticisms of the Armidale course was that ‘insufficient lectures had been given by Aborigines’; out of thirteen lectures, only four had been delivered by Aboriginal people. Building on this, Eggleston proposed to ‘use Aboriginal lecturers … wherever possible’ in her course. She also wanted ‘special consideration … given to Aborigines wishing to enroll, even where they are not matriculants, to encourage as many as possible to take part’. The remainder of the cohort would be drawn from undergraduates.

The syllabus Eggleston proposed in September 1973 drew on all the extant and emerging research available and reflected contemporary issues of importance to Aboriginal people:

1. The nature and function of prejudice

2. The traditional Aboriginal society

3. Historical perspectives in Aboriginal-white relations

4. Aboriginal identity

5. Present-day situation of Aborigines

6. Black self-determination

7. Land Rights

8. Contemporary Culture

9. Overseas indigenous groups

The Centre’s Board expressed concerns about practical matters such as who was going to fund and run the course: questions were asked about the length of the course (one or two semesters?), and whether a quota would need to be imposed on the number of students enrolled. The Department of Anthropology and Sociology, although in favour of the introduction of such a course, made it clear that it was unable to provide any practical help. Dubious that any course for credit could be introduced before the 1975 academic year, the Centre’s Board suggested that the course be offered as a pilot not-for-credit course run by the CRAA. If it ‘could be demonstrated that demand for the course existed among the student body’, and if sufficient outside funding could be found, a stronger case could be made for approving it for credit. The Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs agreed to sponsor the course, providing an additional grant of $3000 to assist with its establishment.

Commencing in June 1974, Black Australian Studies attracted an enrolment of fifty students, a mixture of undergraduates and members of the community. Reviewed by Monash’s Higher Education Research Unit at the conclusion of the semester, the course was found to have been ‘successful in achieving its stated aims’. Typical of students’ replies to the question ‘What do you consider the main effect the course had on you?’ were: ‘have learned to some extent what it means to be Aboriginal’; ‘deeper insight into the authentic aims and feelings of blacks’. One student, who found the course ‘invaluable’, felt that she had ‘begun a journey towards a better understanding of Aborigines and Europeans’. Given that Lippman, in Words or Blows: Racial Attitudes in Australia, published in 1973, found that some 40 percent of Victorians interviewed had attitudes towards Aborigines which varied from unfavourble to very unfavourable, the course’s potential to produce ‘more enlightened and sensitive’ attitudes was highlighted in subsequent arguments for accreditation. Black Australian Studies was offered as a not-for-credit unit again in 1975, this time attracting an enrolment of thirty students. The smaller number of enrolments may have been a reflection of the timing of the offering, Tuesdays at 7.30pm; it may also have signaled a desire on the part of the student body for a credit-based option (which did not become available until 1979).

Eggleston’s plans for expansion included two substantive course offerings – Black Australian Studies and Studies in Aboriginal Culture. The motivation for the latter course arose, she explained, ‘primarily from a need expressed by part-Aboriginal people to learn more about their culture’. Many young Aboriginal people, having grown up in cities and towns, knew little of their peoples’ history and culture. In some cases their relationship to Aboriginal communities and culture had been diminished, or even severed, through having been removed from their parents as children, or through moving away from their people’s country. A new generation of Aboriginal leaders such as Bruce McGuiness, a student at Monash, and Bob Maza were ‘intent on forging an Aboriginal consciousness grounded in Aboriginal tradition’. Responding to this need, Eggleston proposed to mount ‘a continuing education course which, as distinct from the undergraduate course, would deal specifically with traditional [Aboriginal] culture’. However, given the reservations of several CRAA Board members who felt that ‘tribal Aborigines might hold the view that the proper way to learn of tribal culture was to live [it]’, as a first step it was decided to hold a seminar for local Aboriginal people in order to determine the purpose and nature of the course. Although originally conceived as a five-day fully funded event, in the end a more modest one-day ‘Seminar on Studies in Aboriginal Culture’ was held at Monash in February 1974. Rather than opt for a course on Aboriginal culture, participants agreed to form a Victorian Council for Aboriginal Culture ‘away from the University at another location which would permit easy access by Aboriginal people’. The Council, responsible for organising some of the earliest Aboriginal art exhibitions in the state, affirmed and strengthened Aboriginal culture for the benefit of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people alike. Thus, although Eggleston’s proposal did not result in a course on Aboriginal culture, it nevertheless had a positive outcome.

The third element in Eggleston’s expanded vision for the CRAA was the establishment of an Aboriginal Resource Centre. The idea came directly from the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Bryant, who ‘thought it desirable to establish [Aboriginal Resource] Centres … in each of the state capitals, to act as focal points which could provide material and information on Aborigines and race relations for primary and secondary schools and for the public at large’. Bryant invited the CRAA to make a submission for the establishment of such a facility at Monash. With the Board’s approval, Eggleston drew up a comprehensive proposal in March 1974. Building on the Centre’s existing (though under-resourced) propensity to field requests for information and source material on Aborigines from students and teachers, her enlarged vision included the provision of printed and audio-visual materials to schools and the general public, and the facilitation of a panel of Aboriginal speakers who would be available on a fee-paying basis. She also proposed to staff the Resource Centre with Aboriginal employees.

When, towards the end of 1974, the Centre’s Board learned that the Aboriginal Cooperative in Fitzroy (inner city Melbourne) would probably become a Resource Centre ‘for Aboriginal users by virtue of its location’, it reaffirmed the need for a Resource Centre at Monash whose users would ‘be mainly secondary students and teachers’. The Regional Director of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, P.F. Renkin, was invited to attend a CRAA Board meeting to discuss the matter in April 1975, a year after the original proposal had been submitted. Renkin, although supportive of the general arguments, was otherwise non-committal. Other bodies, including government agencies, were becoming involved in the provision of similar services. In light of this, the CRAA’s Board felt that the success of the proposal ‘was basically a matter of whether its … activities were distinct from those performed by existing Victorian organizations’. Eggleston disagreed. For her it was a matter of having the service already supplied by the CRAA properly supported. She drew up a revised proposal in August 1975 emphasising the ‘considerable … existing demand’ but the timing was against her. Scandal racked the Whitlam government and a budgetary crisis loomed. At the next CRAA Board meeting, it was noted simply that ‘owing to budgetary restraints’, the proposal to establish an Aboriginal Resource Centre ‘would not receive financial support from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs’.

The Aboriginal Resource Centre idea was shelved, but not before it, together with the Center’s proposed new course offerings, was presented as the means of developing the CRAA into a Race Relations Centre. It was a bold vision, the aim of which, Eggleston explained, ‘would be to provide a better community climate of understanding towards and cooperation with Aborigines, so that those who persist in racist attitudes would feel themselves out of step with the community at large’. The means of attaining this were threefold: production of literature; research; and community education programs. Demonstrating something of Tatz’s continued influence and legacy, Eggleston outlined plans for the provision of statistical bulletins on a variety of topics, beginning with an annual ‘Survey of Race Relations in Australia’ similar to that published by the South African Institute of Race Relations; an ‘Education Bulletin’, listing material suitable for primary and secondary students; ‘study kits’ suitable for different age groups; and a monthly journal specialising ‘in lively and provocative articles dealing with race situations in other countries and commentary on development in Australia’. Second, Eggleston proposed the ‘commissioning of special research projects to make the work of the Centre more effective’. In particular, she had in mind the ‘speedy investigation’ of ‘crisis situations’; research undertaken at the request of Aboriginal groups’; and the evaluation of government programs being carried out in Aboriginal areas. Finally, Eggleston traced plans for the CRAA to play a role in ‘devising and assisting in the carrying out of community education programs of all kinds to diminish prejudice’. In addition to courses delivered to police, nurses, teachers and doctors, she imagined the bringing together of small ‘encounter’ groups of Aborigines and whites, and the ‘stimulation of interest among all sections of the community in racial questions’.

It was a vision in keeping with Tatz’s original aims for the CRAA: it was ‘action research’, but on a much grander scale than had been possible to date. Expanding even further, the Board of the CRAA supported widening the scope of the proposed Race Relations Centre to encompass the problems of various ethnic minorities within a comparative international framework. Bryant, who met with the Vice Chancellor and several CRAA Board members in early October 1973, expressed strong interest in the proposal, but within days of the meeting had relinquished his portfolio, becoming Minister for the Capital Territory. Despite this and the reservations of some Board members who worried that the interests of Aborigines would become submerged in an enlarged unit, the proposal moved forward. Meetings were held with Al Grassby, Minister for Immigration and ‘father of multiculturalism’, to determine the likelihood of government support for a Race and Ethnic Relations Centre at Monash. Although, in the end, the proposal was dropped through lack of funds and interest, its conception nevertheless reveals a great deal about Eggleston’s proactive and encompassing approach to Aboriginal research. Not all of her ideas bore fruit, but her desire to see the CRAA make a ‘valuable contribution’ drove her to continue testing and pushing the limits.

* * *

In the midst of Eggleston’s expansion plans, the regular work of the CRAA continued. A residential seminar on ‘Aborigines and the Law’ was held at the Halls of Residence, Monash University, in July 1974. Opened by the federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Senator Cavanagh, the seminar involved over one hundred participants and made forty-three separate recommendations, many radical, including: ‘That all white executive or committee members of Aboriginal legal aid organisations resign or be removed; … [and] That this seminar accepts the concept of black control of black affairs’. The latter resolution resounded with Eggleston who, in planning future residential seminars, insisted that ‘(i) no further strictly academic seminars be held and that (ii) research work in the Aboriginal field should be carried out by Aborigines, as much as possible’. In abandoning the idea of a future residential seminar on Aboriginal Arts, Eggleston explained that it would be better for such a seminar to ‘emanate from Aborigines themselves’. More direct involvement of Aboriginal people in the daily operation and work of the CRAA was also sought.

The CRAA began employing Aboriginal research assistants at the end of 1973 when John Austin and Gary Murray were employed to conduct a study on the seasonal employment of Aborigines. A year later, Austin and Archie Roach were appointed to temporary research positions. They were followed by Steve Thorpe and Steve Aronson, who conducted research on legislation relating to Aborigines, and Laura Winslow who worked on the Resource Centre proposal. Bruce McGuiness, Austin and Lin Onus were co-opted onto the Centre’s Board at around the same time. Eggleston firmly believed that ‘participation by Aborigines in decision-making [was] even more important than consultation by whites with Aborigines’.

A major outcome of the Aboriginal Health Services seminar (held in 1972) was the setting up of an Aboriginal health journal administered by the Centre. The Health Services seminar had focused attention on the lack of ‘means of communication between the various people working in the field of Aboriginal health’, a situation ‘exacerbated by the geographical isolation of many workers in the field’. Presented as a means of overcoming this problem, the idea of an Aboriginal health journal found ready support from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs which agreed to sponsor the journal via a special grant of $11,600. An editorial board headed by Dr Dobbin of the Department of Social and Preventative Medicine at Monash was named, and work commenced. However, the first issue, due out in February 1975, was delayed due to the difficulty of obtaining contributions.

At around the same time, Eggleston proposed that the CRAA take over production of a second periodical, Newsletter on Aboriginal Affairs, formerly produced by the Group for Information on Aboriginal Affairs in association with the Victorian Council of Churches. Three editions of the Newsletter had been printed, but the Group had insufficient funds to continue production. Eggleston was chairman and acting editor of the Group. Her proposal amounted to a plea for University sponsorship for the Newsletter which contained ‘serious material not published elsewhere’, emphasised ‘Aboriginal viewpoints’, reached libraries, teachers’ colleges and individuals in Australia and abroad, and had the support of Aboriginal spokespeople such as Bruce McGuiness, an Aboriginal student at Monash. Eggleston explained that she planned to continue editing the Newsletter with the help of Laura Winslow and other Aboriginal research assistants at the Centre. The Board of the CRAA supported her proposal, but rather than publish two periodicals, it suggested combining the Aboriginal health journal, which was yet to appear, with the Newsletter and producing one publication. Renkin approved the plan to use the government’s grant to produce a quarterly ‘Aboriginal Affairs Review’, the first issue of which would be on the subject of Aboriginal health, but the Department of Health objected. Having been part of the joint committee which had approved the original grant, it insisted on a focus on Aboriginal health. In the end, a single edition of Aboriginal Issues: Health (containing articles on the Aboriginal Medical Service at Redfern, government health polices, demographic data and statistics on infant mortality) was published in 1976 and, at the request of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, the balance of the grant returned.

By the end of 1975, the CRAA was firmly ‘established in relation to the Aboriginal community in Victoria’ and, by virtue of its residential seminars, was ‘widely known throughout Australia’. More than that, through the initiation of Black Australian Studies, the CRAA was vitally involved in the ‘interpretation of the Aboriginal community to the white community in Australia’. Thanks largely to Eggleston’s hard work and dedication, the Centre was providing a valuable public relations service, acting as a ‘medium’ between the university and the community. The time had come, the CRAA’s Board believed, to augment these functions by the appointment of a full-time Director. The University agreed. While there was every hope that Eggleston would apply, and be successful, procedures had to be followed. Advertisements for a full-time director were placed in daily newspapers throughout the country, and in the Aboriginal journal Identity, with a closing date of 31 March 1976.

In December 1975 Lorna Lippman resigned her position of Research Officer at the CRAA. Two months later, Basil Hetzel resigned as Chairman of the CRAA’s Board. By then, news of Eggleston’s illness had broken. The new Chairman, Professor Louis Waller, recognising the Centre’s firm ties with Aboriginal communities and government, its ‘active involvement in day-to-day matters of great concern in the Aboriginal community’, and its contributions to scholarly research, was committed to ensuring its maintenance and future development. The problem was the extent to which the activities of the Centre revolved around Eggleston (and, to a lesser extent, Lippman); almost all the Centre’s activities were ‘mounted under [Eggleston’s] direction and guidance’. Eggleston died on 24 March 1976 – one week before applications for the position of full-time Director closed.

The social scientist Charles Rowley, reflecting on Eggleston’s legacy, made much of the ‘meticulous care with which she regarded and respected [the] opinions of young Aborigines’. Waller likewise called to mind her work with young Aboriginal people, especially students: ‘quiet but determined, sensitive but firm, unobtrusive but deeply committed to what she saw as attainable goals, she listened, talked, gave advice, made suggestion, assembled and inspired’. Monash’s most famous Aboriginal alumnus, Professor Mick Dodson, was a student in the Law School during Eggleston’s time as a teacher there. In the weeks before her death, while calmly arranging for the completion of many of her projects, she expressed concern for his and other Aboriginal students’ welfare.

Elizabeth Eggleston Memorial Library

At the first meeting of the Board of the CRAA following Eggleston’s death, it was agreed that an appeal for funds should be mounted to institute a suitable memorial. A number of proposals were discussed, but in end it was decided to focus on a project ‘dear to Elizabeth’s heart’: the establishment of an Aboriginal Resource Centre. Accordingly, the Board agreed that Eggleston’s ‘library, which she had bequeathed to the Centre, should be made the basis of a continuing collection of books, documents (and perhaps other material such as tapes and films), dealing with Aboriginal Affairs’. The appeal was launched in July 1977, with a target set at $25,000. By March the following year the full amount had been realised. The appeal was supported by a range of people and organisations, both in Australia and overseas, including Eggleston’s friends and family, her colleagues and members of the Aboriginal community. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs contributed $5000 to the appeal. The Elizabeth Eggleston Memorial Aboriginal Resource Centre (later Library) was opened in 1979. Rehoused several times in the intervening years, it is currently located on the 8th floor of the Menzies Building, an integral part of the Monash Indigenous Centre today.

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

   by Rani Kerin