Australia's first free legal service
The first Aboriginal Legal Service office opened on Regent Street, Redfern, in early 1970. By the end of that year, the team received a $20,000 Commonwealth grant. While it wasn't nearly enough funding to meet the needs of Aboriginal people ensnared by the legal system, it was an important symbolic recognition for the early ALS team's work.
For the first time, Aboriginal people were being represented in Sydney courts and defending charges brought against them by police. The ALS became a legal force to be reckoned with, and it didn't take long for other Aboriginal Legal Services to follow the Redfern model and emerge across Australia.
In early 1971, within the first twelve months of a 24-hour telephone service being offered, the Redfern ALS had handled over 550 cases, with the vast majority being in criminal law.
In 1972 the Whitlam Government pledged to provide representation for all Aboriginal people in all courts of law. This was a first. The number of ALS criminal and civil cases surged, revealing the wide scope of legal problems faced by Aboriginal people in Australia.