Pacific Islander Biography

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Bandler, Ida Lessing Faith (1918–2015)

by Clive R. Moore

Faith Bandler, by Alexandra Asovtseff, c1962

Faith Bandler, by Alexandra Asovtseff, c1962

National Library of Australia, 12889217

Australian political activist and writer, was born in Tumbulgum in New South Wales, and named Ida Lessing Mussing, the second child in a family of eight. Her father, Wacvie Peter Mussing from Biap village, Ambrym, in Vanuatu, had been taken to Australia in 1883 when he was 12. Her mother was Scottish-Indian, born in Brisbane. Educated at Murwillumbah and Cleveland Street Night School in Sydney, Faith married Hans Bandler in 1952, and became involved in indigenous politics as co-founder of the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship in 1956. One of the crucial leaders of the 1967 referendum campaign to enable the Commonwealth government to legislate on behalf of indigenous Australians and to include them in the national census, Dr Bandler was also General Secretary of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (1970–73). In 1976 she was awarded an MBE but refused to accept it.

While maintaining her interest in indigenous affairs, as Director of the Co-operative for Aborigines and Islanders in the 1970s, and in women’s issues, since the mid 1970s Bandler has turned her formidable talents to obtaining recognition and special benefits for the descendants of her father’s people, Australia’s South Sea islanders, brought to Queensland as indentured labourers, 1863–1904. Most of the islanders were repatriated under 1901 Commonwealth White Australia legislation, but some 2000 remained, who had intermarried mainly with indigenous Australians. Instrumental in the formation of the Australian South Sea Islanders United Council in 1974, Bandler helped lobby the Australian government. In 1991 at her urging, the Evatt Foundation commissioned a survey of the islanders, which led to a wider government investigation by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, published as The Call for Recognition. The final result was the 1994 announcement of a package of grants, programs and special funding for Australia’s South Sea islander community. Dr Bandler has written several books about her political activities and her family, and appeared on many radio and television programs.

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Clive R. Moore, 'Bandler, Ida Lessing Faith (1918–2015)', Pacific Islander Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 June 2024.

© Copyright Pacific Islander Biography, 2012