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WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following may contain images, story and voices of deceased, by and about persons. Discretion advised.

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Joe McGinness

11 July 2020 // Joe McGinness


Joseph Daniel "Joe" McGinness AM (1914-2003) also spelt McGuinness, was a Unionist, veteran and the first Aboriginal president of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI).

McGinness was born in 1914 in the Northern Territory to Alngindabu (also known as Lucy), a member of the Kungarakany language group and Stephen McGinness, an Irish prospector and operator of a tin mine named in his wife's honour.

The McGinness' clan had five children; Joe's brother Val McGinness would also be an activist as well as a musician and sportsperson. When their father died, McGinness, aged eight, and his siblings were taken into a compound for "half caste" children in Darwin.

McGinness's activism began in the 1930s in Darwin, where he protested against mass unemployment and appeared before parliamentary delegations examining the question of indigenous rights. Along with members of his family, he staged a protest tent outside the Kahlin Compound, an action unheard of at the time. 


Later McGinness was to serve in Borneo in World War II and worked on the docks in Cairns. His experience in the union movement in Cairns led him to political activism with the Cairns Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advancement League and later the Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement, 1961 to 1977. He worked on the campaign for the 1967 referendum regarding Aboriginal affairs in Australia.

McGinness was made a Member of the Order of Australia in the 1990 Australia Day Honours list for service to the Aboriginal community.

He did not like corruption in Aboriginal affairs and had high expectations of all leaders. His preference was about getting the work done in a cooperative manner, not to bask in the limelight of the media. The priority of the peoples' rights, interests and conditions far outweighed the celebrity. 

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