Faith Bandler

A leading campaigner for Aboriginal rights from the 1950s through the 1980s, Faith Bandler was the daughter of Pacific Islander, Peter Mussing, brought to Queensland from the island of Ambrym in the then New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) and an Australian-born mother, Ida Venno, of Indian-Scottish descent, who taught her the importance of education, self respect and elegant dress.
Bandler was born in 1918, one of eight children and raised in the small community of Tumbulgum in northern New South Wales and later Murwillumbah, where she attended high school. The schoolyard was the site of harassment and racial abuse.
In her adult life, Bandler became best known as the charismatic speaker and broadcaster, who advocated a 'Yes' vote in the 1967 referendum, which was overwhelmingly successful, with more than 90 per cent of Australians agreeing to end constitutional discrimination against Indigenous peoples. 
Her father was taken as a boy in 1883 from Biap, on the island of AMbrym. His kidnapping was part of 'blackbirding', the practice which brought cheap labour to help establish the Austrailian sugar industry. He was later known as Peter Mussing, a lay preacher and worked on a banana plantation outside Murwillumbah. However, Bandler's father died when she was just five years old. 
Bandler's childhood memories of her father's stories became the basis of her first novel, Wacvie, published in 1977. Her second novel Welou: My Brother documents, as the title suggests, her brother Walter's life growing up in Australia as a boy torn between two different cultures. It was published in 1984.
The Mussing children understood their father's situation in terms of the well known narrative of American slavery. They were inspired in their political campaigns for freedom from the racial discrimination they experienced in the local cinemas, hotels and shops, by the American publications of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People ( NAACP) and by the songs of Paul Robeson, which Bandler also heard when she didn't attend school one day to see the legendary film, Showboat, in the local picture theatre. As a young adult, Bandler would drive her car to Sydney airport to meet Robeson on his first trip to Australia in 1960.
Thirty years later, when Bandler left the north coast to live in Sydney, and joined, on the outbreak of war, the Australian Women's Land Army and worked in rural New South Wales picking cherries. Here she had her first taste of independence and modern urban life. After the war she became involved in the left wing pacifist circles of King's Cross, leading to her participation in the Margaret Walker Dance Group and a trip to the International Youth Congress in Berlin, in 1951. There she was the leading performer in the so-called 'The Dance of the Aboriginal Girl', based on a poem about racial discrimination in the South of the United States called 'The Merry Go Round' by the popular Harlem Renaissance writer, Langston Hughes. 
After her return from Europe, Bandler met her future husband Hans Bandler through their shared love of classical music. Hans Bandler was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany who had been incarcerated in Dachau and Buchenwald before escaping to the United Kingdom and then Australia. They married in 1952 and their daughter Lilon was born in 1954. 
Working with the Australian Peace Council, Bandler met the courageous Aboriginal activist, Pearl Gibbs, with whom she formed, in 1956, the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship, which played a key role in launching in 1957 at the Sydney Town Hall, the petition campaign to the federal government requesting a referendum on the sections of the constitution that discriminated against Aborigines. The ten year mobilisation that ensued, for which Bandler provided tireless leadership was just as important to achieving the vital amendments to the constitution as was the referendum vote in 1967.
At the same time Bandler became involved with the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI), formed in 1958, with which the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship was affiliated. 
In the 1970s Bandler turned to an investigation of the history of her father's people and the role of South Sea Islanders, as they were then termed, in developing the north of Queensland and in particular the sugar industry. She embarked on a trip to Vanuatu and met up with her father's relatives. She also documented their lives and exploitative experience at the hands of traffickers in labour and the sugar cane growers. She became an active member of the Women's Electoral Lobby after it was founded in 1972.
By the 1970s, Bandler was a much loved public figure, who testified to the long history of racist oppression in Australia, provided an example of courage and grace in overcoming racism and serving as a moral beacon to the cause of social justice, human rights and equal opportunity for all.
She received numerous awards and honours. In testament to her moral leadership of the nation she was awarded the Human Rights Medal from the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission in 1997. In 2000, Nelson Mandela, Nobel Peace prize winner and former President of South Africa presented Bandler on behalf of the Sydney Peace Foundation, with a 'Meritorious Award in Honour and Gratitude for a Life of Courageous Advocacy for Justice and for Indigenous People, for Human Rights, for Love and Reconciliation'. In 2009, Faith was made a Companion of the Order of Australia, Australia's highest honour by Governor General Quentin Bryce In 2009.
Hans passed on, and at the age of 96 in February 2015, Bandler died. 
Bandler's published works include: 
·        Bandler, Faith (1977). Wacvie. Adelaide: Rigby. 
·        Bandler, Faith; Fox, Len (1980). Marani in Australia. Adelaide: Rigby. 
·        Bandler, Faith; Fox, Len (editors) (1983). The Time was Ripe: A History of the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship. Chippendale: Alternative Publishing Cooperative.
·        Bandler, Faith (1984). Welou, My Brother. Glebe: Wild & Woolley. 
·        Bandler, Faith (1989). Turning the tide : a personal history of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press. 


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