Additional information

Why am I doing this research?

My ancestors on both sides were Irish and German. Having a grandfather who fought on the ‘wrong side’ during the Second World war has, perhaps, made me think about the wrongs of the past and what I might do to redress them. I love researching and writing history and I believe that non-Indigenous historians like myself have a special responsibility to do it better than it has been done in the past. I’m aware that many non-Indigenous historians write ‘about’ rather than ‘for’ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I’m hoping to do something different with this project. I’m doing my best to speak to as many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as I can throughout this project, and I'm particularly indebted to Aunty Judi Wickes for helping me understand that the history of exemption is one that is lived through a person’s own experience and family history and can’t just be learned by looking through dusty boxes in government archives.

I believe the story of exemption is an important one that needs to be told because the policy’s effects were widespread and devastating. I hope that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people might benefit from the archival work I’ve been able to do thanks to my position at a university and ability to get research funding—that’s the reason behind this website, to try to get in touch with people that might want to now more about this history.

I’m also hoping that through my work non-Indigenous people in this country will learn more about this country’s history of imposing terrible, painful, racist policies on Aboriginal people and their long lasting effects. In 2018 Reconciliation Australia’s biennial survey found that more than one in three Australians do not accept that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were subject to mass killings, incarceration, and forced removal from their lands. I think people like me—non-Indigenous historians employed by universities—have a responsibility to try to fix this problem with our nation. We need to listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and join them in telling mainstream Australia about the crimes of the past. As the 2018 Reconciliation Australia report says, ‘We cannot change the past, but we can learn from it.’

“Living a Lie” (2018), created by Kerri Atkinson, Kristy Baksh, Peta Lonsdale, Nekita Moran, Victoria Webbe, Anna Williams and Jai- Marre Wilson, 2018, Certificate 111 Visual Arts Students (CUA31115) Centre for Koorie Education, GOTAFE. The Aboriginal symbols tell a story in a clockwork direction, starting with 1a at 10 o'clock: 1a & 1b Dog Tag, 2a & 2b Camp site, 3a & 3b Shield, 4a & 4b Waterhole, 5a and 5b Tear drop, Rain. Used under a creative commons licence, CC BY-NC-SA.

Want more useful links on the history of Exemption?

Aunty Judi Wickes, BSocWk, BA (hons), MA

Aunty Judi Wickes (Kalkadoon/Wakka Wakka) is a respected community Elder, social worker and educator who writes and presents nationally and internationally on the topics of Stolen Generation and the certificate of exemption and its impacts on generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Judi has published a number of articles about her family’s history of exemption:

  • Judi Wickes and Lucinda Aberdeen, ‘The Diaries of Daisy Smith: The Experience of Citizenship for an Exempted Family in Mid-Twentieth Century Queensland’, Australian Journal of Politics and History 63, no. 1 (2017), 62-77.
  • Judi Wickes, ‘“Never Really Heard of It”: The Certificate of Exemption and Lost Identity.’ In Indigenous Biography and Autobiography, ed. Peter Read, Frances Peters-Little and Anna Haebich. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2008, 73-91.
  • Judi Wickes and Marnee Shay, ‘Aboriginal Identity in Education Setting: Privileging Our Stories as a Way of Deconstructing the Past and Re-Imagining the Future’, Australian Educational Researcher 44 (2017), 107-22.
  • Freedom: A Certificate of Exemption Story, State Library of Queensland

Useful links for doing your own research

Key Exemption Legislation

New South Wales

Northern Territory


South Australia

1939- Aborigines Act Amendment Act 1939

Western Australia

1905- Aborigines Act 1905 (WA)

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