Understanding Aboriginal Exemption: The promise of everyday freedoms and choices

The editors and authors of Black, White and Exempt talk about Aboriginal Exemption, an important, but largely unknown, part of Australian History, and how Aboriginal exemption remains relevant in 21st century Australia.

In 2018, La Trobe University Shepparton Campus hosted an inaugural symposium to explore the little-known topic of Aboriginal exemption. The event was guided by Aboriginal researchers and elders with personal experience of exemption, Aunty Kella Robinson and Aunty Judi Wickes. Both wanted wider audiences to understand the truth about this policy and its impacts. This successful event led to the publication, two years later, Black, White and Exempt: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lives under Exemption.  The book has sparked great interest.

Professor Kat Ellinghaus said, “There was wonderful engagement from the audience,  including from people who told us about their own family's engagements with exemption policies, showing just how many and varied stories about exemption are out there.”


Ash Francisco is a Wiradjuri woman born on Wurundjeri Country in Naarm, Melbourne. Her interests span from historically guided restorative justice to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership and entrepreneurship. She is an Aboriginal history scholar currently is based on Taungurung Country in North Central Victoria and has an ongoing interest in decolonising the centrality of knowledge institutions by bringing information and resources to where people need them for practical application.

Aunty Kella Robinson BEd, GCertCultHeritage, MA (Deakin) is a Wemba Wemba woman born in Hillston in central New South Wales. She has worked as a state schoolteacher, storyteller and cultural interpreter. Since 2003, Kella has been one of the cultural advisers assisting the Victorian Koorie Court at Shepparton, and since 2012 she has been involved with the Dungala-Kaiela Writing Awards.

Jennifer Jones is Associate Professor in Interdisciplinary Studies in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at La Trobe University Albury-Wodonga campus. She is a non-Indigenous woman who was raised on Wiradjuri country in southern New South Wales. Jennifer’s research interests include Indigenous Australian history, rural and religious history, and histories of childhood and education. She teaches environmental history, Aboriginal history and rural studies and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Katherine Ellinghaus is Associate Professor of History in the School of Archaeology and History at La Trobe University. She is of Irish, Scottish and German descent and has researched and written extensively on indigenous assimilation policies in Australia and the United States. In 2014 she was awarded an Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant to write a history of Aboriginal exemption policies in Australia.

Lucinda Aberdeen is a sociologist and Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, School of Humanities and Social Sciences at La Trobe University Shepparton and Senior Research Fellow, Rural Health Department University of Melbourne. She is of Irish and Scottish descent and grew up on Noongar country in the south-west of Western Australia.