Australia Day 1970 in Newcastle NSW shows white men painted head to toe with black body paint

No wonder there’s an Invasion Day movement: Old footage shows white men ‘made up as Aborigines’ and painted head-to-toe in black body paint for January 26th celebration – but there’s one similarity the crowds then and now share

  • Video of 1970 Australia Day parade a sharp contrast to 2023
  • The Newcastle event featured several men and boys in ‘blackface’ 
  • Australia Day aka Invasion Day rallies in 2023 far more reflective

News footage of men and boys ‘made up as Aborigines’ in blackface entertaining Australia Day crowds just 53 years ago has emerged on social media.

The NBN news clip, shot in Newcastle two hours north of Sydney on Australia Day 1970, was reposted to Twitter on Thursday with the title ‘White people doing blackface on Australia Day 1970’.

The historic video showed large crowds watching on curiously. In a surprising similarity to today’s Australia Day celebrations, there’s isn’t a single Australian flag in sight.  

the footage, which is disturbing to the modern eye, shows men and boys in blackface entertaining Australia Day crowds in Newcastle

the footage, which is disturbing to the modern eye, shows men and boys in blackface entertaining Australia Day crowds in Newcastle

Invasion and survival day events were powerful affairs in 2023

Invasion and survival day events were powerful affairs in 2023

In the clip, two groups of young men and boys in black body and face paint gleefully stalk onlookers and thrust fake spears at them during an event packed with families that began on Hunter Street.

The young men had donned blackface, apparently completely unaware that it might already inappropriate.

Their chests were also painted with what looked like they were supposed to be white bones 

The clip from 1970 showed a second group of young Newcastle men wearing full body black paint too

The clip from 1970 showed a second group of young Newcastle men wearing full body black paint too

It had a man dressed up as Ned Kelly, accompanied by 'police' and a flat bed truck carrying a boat filled with waving council workers dressed up as first fleet crew

It had a man dressed up as Ned Kelly, accompanied by ‘police’ and a flat bed truck carrying a boat filled with waving council workers dressed up as first fleet crew

They laughed and pretended to throw spears at men dressed as sailors from the First Fleet.

On the same day 53 years later indigenous Australians and their allies walked together sombrely to express their collective sadness at the impacts of colonization in ‘Invasion Day’ rallies across Australia.

As the years go by, the losses continue to mount for Australian Indigenous people. 

For starters they suffer far high rates of imprisonment, domestic violence, sexual abuse and drug and alcohol addiction than most non-Indigenous communities in the same country. 

The historic video showed large crowds, without an Australian flag in sight, looking on curiously at the men in blackface

The historic video showed large crowds, without an Australian flag in sight, looking on curiously at the men in blackface

Australia's Indigenous people  die younger - with heart disease, diabetes, respiratory disease and cancer the many culprits - and are less likely to find stable careers and housing

Australia’s Indigenous people  die younger – with heart disease, diabetes, respiratory disease and cancer the many culprits – and are less likely to find stable careers and housing

They die younger – with heart disease, diabetes, respiratory disease and cancer the mani culprits – and are less likely to find stable careers and housing.

Only a few hundred metres from where the blackfaced boys took a lead role on Australia Day in 1970, Newcastle’s 2023 Day of Mourning event was far more reflective. 

It began at 10am at Customs House fountain and was followed by a walk up Wharf Road to ‘release’ sorry business.

The clip from 1970 showed a second group of young men wearing full body black paint too.

On the same day 53 years later indigenous Australians and their allies walked together sombrely across Australia

On the same day 53 years later indigenous Australians and their allies walked together sombrely across Australia

In Melbourne Invasion Day protesters had several events to choose from

In Melbourne Invasion Day protesters had several events to choose from

They were at Horsehoe Beach, near the famous Nobby’s Beach looking menacing as another group re-enacted Captain Phillip’s Botany Bay landing.

Apart from the horrific blackface, the 1970 parade wasn’t so different to how it would be today.

It had a man dressed up as Ned Kelly, accompanied by ‘police’ and a flat bed truck carrying a boat filled with waving council workers dressed up as first fleet crew. 

On Twitter, people who viewed the post were surprised and shocked, but some found the video familiar.

‘It’s folly to judge people from the past through the prism of our current standards and understanding,’ said one man.

‘This is the world I grew up in. Glad we’ve (somewhat) moved on from this,’ wrote a Perth man.

‘I think there are still many people though who still live in this paradigm of acceptability.’ 

Newcastle's 2023 Day of Mourning event began at 10am at Customs House fountain and was followed by a walk up Wharf Road to 'release' sorry business

Newcastle’s 2023 Day of Mourning event began at 10am at Customs House fountain and was followed by a walk up Wharf Road to ‘release’ sorry business

No matter how frowned upon it is, blackface does seem to keep happening.

In September 2022, a Queensland footy club was investigated after a Mad Monday ‘blackface’ team photo was posted online appearing to feature players dressed up as Michael Jordan and Usain Bolt.

The image, which showed representatives from the Highfields Eagles Rugby League Club in Toowoomba, appeared on the club’s Facebook page. 

Following community backlash, it was quickly deleted.

Another noticeable difference was the complete absence of Australian flags amongst the visible spectators. 

At most Australia Day event since about 2000, Aussie flags tend to be plastered on everything from t-shirts to boardies, to sunhats and beach towels.

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