Senator Neville Bonner was the first Indigenous Australian to be elected to Federal Parliament.
Neville Bonner was born in 1922 on an island in the Tweed River. His grandfather was an elder of the Jagara tribe. His early life was spent in Lismore, on the banks of the Richmond River. After his mother died, his grandmother took Neville and his younger brother back with her to Beaudesert in southern Queensland.
Neville Bonner worked as a rural labourer on properties across Queensland until 1946, when he commenced employment at the Palm Island Aboriginal settlement. He rose to the position of assistant settlement overseer before he moved to Ipswich in 1960. Following the 1967 referendum, which amended the Constitution to give the Commonwealth Government the power to make laws in relation to Aboriginals, Bonner joined the Liberal Party. In 1971 he became the first Aboriginal person to sit in the Commonwealth Parliament when he was chosen to fill a vacancy in the Senate caused by the resignation of a Liberal senator for Queensland. He was subsequently returned at elections held in 1972, 1974, 1975 and 1980.
Neville Bonner resigned from the Liberal Party after being dropped to third on the Liberal ticket. He ran as an independent, narrowly missing retaining his seat. Neville Bonner continued as a strong advocate for Indigenous rights until his death in 1999.
The Neville Bonner Building, constructed in Queen’s Wharf in 1998, is named for this Indigenous leader.