History of Oceania

Faith Bandler, Australian activist

Australian writer and activist, Faith Bandler (1918 – 2015) organized a campaign for Aboriginal citizenship and worked for the recognition of crimes committed against local populations.

The blackbirders

Faith Bandler was born on September 27, 1918 as Ida Lessing Faith Mussing, in Tumbulgum, New South Wales in southeastern Australia. The colonization of the island by the British, from 1788, was accompanied by numerous massacres and crimes of all kinds against the local populations and those of the neighboring islands. At the start of the 20th century, within the federal state of Australia created in 1901, abuses and discrimination against Aborigines and natives of neighboring islands remain commonplace.

Faith's family history, marked by these abuses, will help shape her activism. His father, Wacvie Mussingkon, was indeed kidnapped in 1883, at the age of thirteen, on the island of Ambryn – now Vanuatu. The blackbirders then kidnap natives to work under duress – or for paltry consideration, or wages never paid – on sugar cane plantations in Australia. The practice has been officially illegal since 1872, but in practice enjoys some tolerance from the authorities.

Later known as Peter Mussing, Faith's father eventually ran away and married a woman of Anglo-Indian descent. They will have eight children. In the evening, Wacvie transmits to his children the oral stories but also drawn in the ashes of the hearth, of his abduction and of the forced labor in the sugar cane plantations; at the same time, he sows the seeds of revolt in his daughter's mind. Wacvie dies when Faith is five years old. The girl attended school for a few years and then, at the age of sixteen, moved to Sydney to work as an apprentice to a seamstress.

Beginnings in activism

During World War II, Faith Mussing and her sister Kath served in the Australian Women’s Land Army , which aims to make women work in the agricultural sector to replace men who have left to fight. Aboriginal women workers are paid less than white women.

After the war, Faith campaigned for equal pay and joined left-wing peace activist circles in Sydney. In this context, she joined the Margaret Walker Dance Group, which performed at the World Festival of Youth and Students in Berlin in 1951. She held the lead role in a dance called "the dance of the aboriginal girl", based on a poem evoking racial segregation in the southern states of the United States.

Back from Germany, Faith meets the engineer Hans Bandler, a Jew from Austria who experienced deportation to Dachau and Buchenwald during the war before being able to flee and take refuge in Australia. They married in 1952 and had two children:Lilon, born in 1954, and Peter, an Aboriginal child subsequently adopted. Hans will be a moral but also financial support of Faith's activism.

The 1967 referendum

From the 1950s, Faith Bandler devoted herself full-time to the defense of Aboriginal rights. After meeting the activist Pearl Gibbs, she participates with her, Bert Groves and Grace Bardsley, in the creation of the Aboriginal Australian Fellowship . She is also involved in the Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement (FCAA), of which she will become general secretary.

In this context, Faith organizes with Pearl Gibbs and Jessie Street, a crucial campaign aimed at obtaining a referendum to abolish the passages of the Australian constitution which discriminate against Aborigines. It is a question of determining if the Aborigines must be counted in the national census and if the federal authorities can legislate for them. After a campaign including massive petitions and numerous rallies and public meetings, the yes vote won 90.77% in 1967. This victory was seen as recognition of the citizenship of Aborigines and their equality with white citizens. .


In the 1970s, disagreements emerged within the FCAA over the role of non-Aboriginal members, such as Faith Bandler, whose father was from the island of Ambryn and whose mother was Anglo-Indian. The activist then devoted herself to research on the history of her father and the history of the peoples of the neighboring Pacific islands, in particular their role in the economic development of Australia within the sugar cane plantations. /P>

In 1975, Faith travels to the island of Ambryn, where her father was kidnapped almost a century earlier. There she meets members of her family and collects their testimonies on their life at the hands of the blackbirders and within sugar cane plantations. From these stories, those of her father and her own experiences, Faith will draw several books:Wacvie (published 1977) about his father, Marani in Australia (1980) for children, Welou:My Brother (1984) about his brother Walter and growing up between two cultures in Australia, as well as two books about the campaign for the 1967 referendum:The Time was Ripe (1983) and Turning the Tide (1989). This research led Faith to campaign for the rights of Australians from the Pacific Islands, and in particular for the recognition of the crimes committed by blackbirders , then largely denied.

A well-known public figure, Faith receives many accolades for her actions in favor of equal rights; she is notably a member of the Order of Australia and received, in 1997, the Human Rights Medal. She had also refused in 1976 to be made a member of the Order of the British Empire.

Faith Bandler died at the age of 96, in February 2015, six years after her husband.