Aunty Dorrie Moore tells the story behind her father’s Certificate of Exemption, issued by the Aboriginal Welfare Board in 1957.

At the time, Dorrie was working at the Adelaide Hotel in Moruya, but her own family could not have a drink in the pub unless they had one of these certificates, which were commonly called ‘dog licences’.

The ‘dog licence’ was a licence to live in a white man’s world. They allowed an Aboriginal person to move freely in town and be served in pubs. But to receive the certificate, you had to prove that you were ‘respectable’, and effectively renounce your Aboriginality.

Dorrie’s niece, Maureen Davis says, “It was a licence that stripped us of our culture, our language, our family. Because once this licence was issued, you couldn’t visit your family who remained on Wallaga Lake Mission. You couldn’t speak the language, or practise the culture. Our elders did practice the culture, but it was all kept under lock and key with these licences. It impacted on many families.”

Despite the freedoms offered by the Certificate of Exemption, of the 14,000 Aboriginal people eligible in NSW only 1,500 chose to apply.

Dorrie’s brothers, Bob (Bobby) and Ted Davis, were wharf workers in Wollongong, where trade unions and Aboriginal people fought together for Aboriginal rights. With miner and activist Fred Moore, Bobby founded the South Coast Aboriginal Advancement League in 1961.

Fred Moore says when they heard a hotel publican would not serve an Aboriginal person, they would threaten to cut off their supply. “Unions were very powerful in those days. We just wouldn't deliver any more kegs, that was it.”

In May 1967, an overwhelming majority of Australians voted yes in a national referendum to recognise Aboriginal people in the census, and afford the Federal government the power to override discriminatory state laws and practices toward Aboriginal people. But it wasn’t until the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 that the Federal government legislated against racial discrimination in the provision of access to certain places and to accommodation, and in the provision of goods and services.

Video Credits – Vanessa Milton, Open Producer, ABC Open South East NSW

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