When Holt went on his fateful swim on 17 December 1967, all hopes that the referendum would result in positive change drowned with him

In the aftermath of the referendum, there was a belief among the younger black activists in Redfern that the commonwealth government was disinterested in the result. After all, the young activists reasoned, wasn‘t the referendum result an overwhelming expression of support from white Australians for the idea of justice for Aboriginal people? This perception among the young Redfern radicals was a significant contributing factor in the later emergence of the Black Power movement but a key player in the events in Canberra has recently offered an alternative version of how events played out in Canberra in the immediate period after the referendum.

In his memoir Pandora’s Box, Barrie Dexter has presented a firsthand account of details of the events and government actions that occurred in the immediate aftermath of the 1967 referendum. Because Dexter was at the heart of the events he describes, his description is the most credible version yet published. At the time of the referendum Dexter was happily ensconced in his position in the diplomatic corps as Australian ambassador to Laos. The prime minister at the time of the referendum was Harold Holt who had assumed office just 18 months earlier on 26 January 1966 after the long serving Sir Robert Menzies had retired.

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