FACT CHECK: Were Indigenous Australians Legally Classified As ‘Animals’ Until The 1960s?

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Editor

A viral Facebook post shared over 14,000 times claims that until the 1960s, Indigenous Australians were classified as animals under the Flora and Fauna Act.

Verdict: False

The Flora and Fauna Act did not exist, and there is no record of any other act legally classifying Indigenous Australians as animals. Experts said the claim is incorrect.

Fact Check:

Indigenous Australians, the country’s native population, have lived on the continent for over 50,000 years, per National Geographic. They have their own distinct languages, culture and history and have historically been subject to severe mistreatment, racism and discrimination by non-indigenous countrymen.

The Facebook post claims, “Until 1960s, Aboriginal Australians came under the Flora And Fauna Act, classified them as animals, not human beings. Featured alongside the claim is a black-and-white photo that, according to The Guardian, shows a white man standing above a group of chained Indigenous men sitting on the ground at a prison.

John Maynard, a professor of indigenous education and research at the University of Newcastle, said in an email to the Daily Caller News Foundation that the post’s claim “is incorrect.” Professor Helen Irving, a constitutional law professor at the University of Sydney, also said the claim is untrue. (RELATED: Did Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison Tweet ‘I’m So Glad We Don’t Have Any Racism Here In Australia’?)

“The claim is factually false: the Commonwealth parliament never passed such an Act,” Irving told the DCNF in an email. “My personal sense is that the myth is popular because it provides a simplified way of expressing long-standing and deep-seated (and justified) grievances about the historical treatment of the Aboriginal people. The legal and constitutional explanations of what happened, and the various versions of discriminatory laws in the past are too complex and hard to communicate in a succinct and powerful way.”

The post may be referring to a 1967 referendum in which Australians voted overwhelmingly in favor of amending the Australian constitution “to allow the Commonwealth to make laws for Aboriginal people and include them in the census,” per the Parliament of Australia’s website. There is no record of an Australian Flora and Fauna Act existing in federal or state law.

While it is unclear where exactly the Flora and Fauna Act myth originates from, the Western Australian Museum speculates that it may be related to the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Act of 1974.

“This Act gave the NSW government control over Aboriginal heritage and landscape,” reads the museum’s website. “In addition, some states did manage Aboriginal affairs through departments that also looked after flora and fauna.”

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Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Editor
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