This time last year, I was on a plane, travelling to beautiful Chiang Mai in Thailand where I would be living for the next 6 month, working with refugees from Myanmar. After I finished my time there, I went travelling around South East Asia for another 4 months. I was a little nervous but mainly I was excited to be leaving Melbourne (and the freezing cold winter we were experiencing!) to start a new adventure, meet new people and, hopefully, have an impact on the lives of the people I was working with.
But, as is so often the case, the impact that I had on others paled in comparison to the impact others had on me. Both the time I spent volunteering and the time I spent travelling was invigorating, educational and (as clichéd as it sounds) life changing. I loved every second and it challenged my perspectives on many aspects of my life.
When people ask me what I learnt during my travels- two things stand out. Firstly- small-statured Thai women who deal in massage are stronger than any personal trainer, and cause significantly more pain! And secondly, a realisation that I am very fortunate to live in a nation where we have so many freedoms afforded to us, including the freedom to vote in free and fair elections.
Australia is truly a very lucky country, and while we can always improve the way our society operates, we should recognise how fortunate we are to live in a place that allows us to make our voices heard about the things we want to change in our society without any fear of being persecuted.
But as free as we are, this hasn’t always been the case for all Australians. Throughout our history, Indigenous Australians, LGBTIQ+ Australians, new Australians, women, Australians with a lower socio-economic status, young or elderly Australians, and Australians living with a disability – have all often possessed fewer freedoms than other Australians— beyond, of course, the lawful restrictions which are necessary (such as drinking, and driving laws for young people).
This inequality has manifested itself in laws restricting work options, marriage, travel opportunities, and, of course, voting rights. Often, these restrictions also led to negative public attitudes and perceptions of those who were being barred from their rights- leading to beliefs that these restrictions were necessary, inevitable or deserved. Compounding these negative beliefs is the fact that a lack of freedom in any one area can lead to a silencing of the voices of the vulnerable- often because they start believing all they’ve been told about their ascribed status, and sometimes due to a lack of education. This results in further loss of freedom as their right to speak and the impact of their voice is curtailed by societal expectation, self-limitation, and their lack of social capital.
Thankfully, people who have been denied their freedoms in the past have not been afraid of speaking out against injustice, and in doing so have earned the attention of more privileged people who can amplify and add to their message. This goes to show that when people who have freedoms act with people who are fighting for theirs, change can be achieved and rights can be afforded to all.
The linked timelines (HERE and HERE) identify times in Australia’s history when there was a shift in how free our society was- either for the better or, sadly, for worse. Your role today is to investigate one (or more!) of these changes and answer or discuss the following questions:
- What freedom or right was being violated before the change? (check the Australian Human Rights Commission for help)
- How was it being violated? (provide evidence of specific ways the right was being violated)
- What was society like prior to this change for those whose freedoms were limited?
- How did this change happen?
- Who were key decision makers/activists?
- What were some of the actions taken to achieve change?
- Provide three primary sources which show specific actions (such as protests, propaganda, letters written etc)
- Summarise two (of each) significant setbacks and achievements which occurred during the process of achieving change?
- How was society different after this change occurred?
- For those whose freedoms were at stake
- For general society
- What is/was the next step for this particular people group in their journey to achieve equality/freedom?
- Is this struggle for equality/freedom finished (resolved, won) in Australia today? If not, how could you activate to ensure everyone enjoys the same rights/freedoms? Come up with at least 2 ways.
It’s extremely important that as young people, you’re aware of not only your rights, and the freedoms you deserve, but also the rights and freedoms of others which all of us have the responsibility to protect. As Martin Luther King Jnr said, “If one is oppressed, all [are] oppressed”, so let’s do our duty and educate ourselves about the incredible freedoms and rights we possess so we can ensure Australia stays the “lucky country” and no one remains discriminated against or oppressed.
Key Knowledge and Skills Met
Civics and Citizenship
- Discuss the freedoms that enable active participation in Australia’s democracy within the bounds of law, including freedom of speech, association, assembly, religion and movement (VCCCG019)
- Explain how citizens can participate in Australia’s democracy, including the use of the electoral system, contact with their elected representatives, use of lobby groups, interest groups and direct action (VCCCG020)