The Curious Case of Mervyn Eades: National Service, Discrimination and Aboriginal People


  • Noah Riseman

    1. Australian Catholic University
    Search for more papers by this author
    • The author gratefully acknowledges advice from colleagues at the Australian Catholic University, especially Shurlee Swain, Nell Musgrove and Maggie Nolan.


In 1971, an Aboriginal man named Mervyn Eades was convicted for failing to register for national service. The magistrate determined that while Eades was indeed Aboriginal under Western Australian law, under the National Service Act he was not. Scrutiny of Eades’ case exposes the interconnected issues of Aboriginality, racial discrimination, assimilation, federalism and conscription in the period between the 1967 Referendum and the 1972 election. Eades’ conviction represented a unique junction of these seemingly disparate political issues which gradually converged. Analysis of Eades’ case and the wider issue of Aboriginal people and national service highlights ongoing legislative discrimination in the immediate post-Referendum period, the problematic status of concurrent Aboriginal affairs powers and the McMahon Liberal government's determination — ultimately unsuccessfully — to avoid conflation of conscription and race politics.