September 2021 marks 50 years since the first Indigenous Australian delivered a maiden address to federal parliament. This was a great achievement for Neville Bonner, who served as a Liberal senator from 1971 to 1983.
Bonner, according to a new biography, understood the tension, even chasm, between protest and compromise. “If you want to beat the system, you do it in a sensible, quiet way,” he argued. At a time when we are becoming accustomed to outbreaks of acute racial sensitivity – trigger warnings, micro-aggressions, the need for safe spaces – what would Neville Bonner make of identity politics today?