Bio Neville Bonner


Neville Bonner

Neville Bonner was the first Aboriginal person to sit in Federal Parliament as a Senator for Queensland from 1971 to 1983.


On his journey from poverty to parliament house he experienced unemployment and discrimination. As a politician he worked to improve conditions for Aborigines, and became a voice for his people.


Neville Bonner was born in 1922. at Ukerabagh, a small settlement near Tweed Heads in northern New South Wales. His mother was an Aborigine, but he never knew his father and had almost no formal education.


While working in north-west Queensland he met Mona Banfield. They married in 1943 and lived on an Aboriginal settlement called Palm Island, near Townsville, Queensland.  Along with his wife and five sons, Neville lived on the island for sixteen years. He worked as a farm labourer and rose to the position of Assistant Settlement Overseer.


In 1960 he moved to Ipswich, where he joined the board of directors of the One People Australia League (OPAL), a moderate Aboriginal rights organisation. He became its Queensland president in 1970.


Neville decided it was time to enter politics, so he joined the Liberal Party in 1967 and held local office in the party. In August 1971 Neville Bonner was sworn in as Australia's first Aboriginal senator.  . He was elected in his own right in 1972, 1974, 1975 and 1980.


Neville remarried in 1972. Heather Ryan had worked beside him for many years and is still his fiercest supporter.


In 1998, shortly before the Constitutional Convention Neville Bonner announced he was dying of lung cancer but vowed to continue working.


Neville Bonner died of lung cancer at Ipswich, Qld in February 1999. He was seventy-six years old when he died. He is survived by four of his five sons by his first marriage, his second wife Heather, and three stepchildren.

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