Faith Bandler was born in 1918 at Tumbulgum, near Murwillumbah, on the far north coast of New South Wales. Her father, Peter Mussing, was a South Sea Islander from Ambrym Island and her mother, Ida Venno, was Australian-born, of Irish and Indian descent. Moving to Sydney in the early 1950s, Faith became active in the peace movement. Encouraged by Jessie Street, she also campaigned for Aboriginal rights.
Elsa Russell painted this portrait at around the time Faith co-founded the Aboriginal–Australian Fellowship with Aboriginal activist Pearl Gibbs. In 1957 the Fellowship launched their campaign for a referendum on Aboriginal citizenship rights. After 10 years of sustained effort, the historic 1967 referendum resulted in overwhelming support for the rights of Indigenous Australians.