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Timeline

Visual timeline

Learn more about some of the key events that tell the story of and provide context for Indigenous rights activism and protest in Australia.

  • A smiling man wearing his hat on an angle stands with a smiling woman to his left.
    Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association, 1924
  • Group of Aboriginal men, women and children standing with a chalk board which reads: 'Aborigines Conference / Day of Mourning'.
    Day of Mourning protestors, 1938
  • Three politicians stand with four Aboriginal people in an office.
    FCAATSI lobbyists, 1967
  • A group of Indigenous activists on the front lawn of Old Parliament House, Canberra, mid 1960s.
    FCAATSI annual conference, mid-1960s
  • Side view of a man speaking into a microphone while addressing a crowd. Placards on the podium read: 'Time for Aboriginal freedom' and 'Return land to Aborigines'.
    Referendum rally, 1967
  • A well-dressed man holding the hand of a child, both holding banners which read 'Vote yes for Aboriginal rights' while two men in the background look on.
    ‘Yes’ campaign, 1967
  • A group of people smiling and holding glasses aloft, with a child at the front of the group.
    Referendum celebrations, 1967
  • Four Indigenous men sitting in darkness in front of a small tent and under a beach umbrella, from which a sign reading 'Aboriginal Embassy' is suspended.
    Aboriginal Tent Embassy, 1972
  • Four people lead a procession under the banner 'Black control for black affairs'. One carries an Aboriginal flag, another a floral wreath.
    Land rights demonstration, 1973
  • Eddie Koiki Mabo
    Mabo decision, 1992
  • A woman with a joyous expression and wearing a brightly-patterned dress dances with clapsticks in front of onlookers outside the High Court.
    Wik Peoples v. Queensland, 1996
  • People holding the Aboriginal flag at the People’s Walk for Reconciliation across the Sydney Harbour Bridge
    Walk for Reconciliation, 2000
  • A large crowd of people sits on lawn, with a row of flagpoles extending into the distance.
    National apology, 2008

Exhibition timeline

View this timeline for more Indigenous rights activism and protest milestones from 1901 to the 2010s.

Explore the timeline

This is by no means an exhaustive list, as there were many more organisations, individuals and events integral to the cause. For a more detailed listing, visit the Collaborating for Indigenous Rights website

1900s

1901: Federation forms the Commonwealth of Australia, with a Constitution excluding Indigenous peoples from the national Census, federal lawmaking, voting, pensions, maternity allowance, and employment in
post offices or the armed forces

1909: Aborigines Protection Act 1909 is enacted as the first legislation dealing specifically with Aboriginal people in New South Wales, leading to the establishment of the first Aboriginal reserves and removal of children from their families; remains in legislation until the Aborigines Act 1969. More on the 1909 Act and 1915 amendments


1920s

1927: Parliament House, Canberra, is opened on 9 May by the Duke and Duchess of York, attended by Wiradjuri elders Jimmy Clements (also known as ‘King Billy’ or Nangar) and John Noble (also known as ‘Marvellous’); Clements’s presence is reported as demonstrating ‘his sovereign rights to the Federal Territory’

1928: Aboriginal activist, toymaker and diarist Anthony Martin Fernando pickets Australia House in London, wearing a coat covered in miniature skeletons and carrying a placard proclaiming: ‘This is all that Australia has left of my people’


1930s

1933: Wallithica elder William Cooper petitions the Australian Parliament and King George V for parliamentary representation for Indigenous peoples

1935: Australian Aborigines League (AAL) is founded by William Cooper in Victoria

1936: Torres Strait maritime strike involving 70% of the Islander workforce leads to the establishment of local governing island councils

1938: Day of Mourning is held on 26 January, Australia’s sesquicentenary, at Australia Hall, Sydney; jointly organised by the AAL and Aboriginal Progressive Association, it is the first national gathering of Indigenous people protesting against the prejudice and discrimination that is a daily part of their lives, and marks the beginning of the modern Aboriginal political movement. More on the Day of Mourning

1939: Indigenous activist Jack Patten urges almost 200 residents of Cummeragunja mission to walk off in protest of poor living conditions; by crossing from New South Wales into Victoria they contravene the rules set by the Aboriginal Protection Board


1940s

1946: Aboriginal pastoral workers walk off stations in the Pilbara, Western Australia, in a precursor to 1960s strike actions in the Northern Territory

1949: Pilbara strikers form the Pindan Cooperative movement, inspiring future Indigenous activists


1950s

1951: Council for Aboriginal Rights (Victoria) forms, with a nationwide membership and focus

project1956: Pearl Gibbs and Faith Bandler launch the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship in Sydney, with Bert Groves as its inaugural president

1956: Aboriginal Scholarships (Abschol) is set up to address the poor access to tertiary education among Indigenous students

1957: Save the Aborigines Committee evolves into the Aborigines Advancement League

1957: National Aborigines Day Observance Committee (NADOC) forms, changing its name to National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) in 1985

1957: Aboriginal people are classified as wards of the Commonwealth, under the Northern Territory Welfare Ordinance 1953

1957: Jessie Street drafts a petition calling for a referendum to alter discriminatory clauses in the Constitution, which is launched by the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship at Sydney Town Hall on 29 April

1958: Federal Council for Aboriginal Affairs (FCAA) is established in Adelaide


1960s

1960: Cairns Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advancement League forms, with membership and executive positions held predominantly by Indigenous people

1961: George and Moira Gibbs and Brian Manning establish the Northern Territory Council for Aboriginal rights

1963: Yirrkala bark petition against mining in north-east Arnhem Land is presented to Australian Parliament by Yolngu custodians

1963: Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs is established by Ted Noffs, Bill Geddes and Charles Perkins to assist Aboriginal people who had moved to Sydney

1964: FCAA becomes the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders(FCAATSI). More on FCAATSI

1964: Aboriginal Progress Association is established by Laurie Bryan, John Moriarty, Winnie Branson, Vince Copley and Malcolm Cooper

1965: Freedom Ride through western New South Wales, by University of Sydney students Charles Perkins, Jim Spigelman, Brian Aarons, Ann Curthoys and others, highlights racism and the poor state of
Aboriginal health, education and housing

1966: Gurindji/Malngin elder Vincent Lingiari leads more than 200 Aboriginal stockmen and their families in the Wave Hill Walk-Off in the Northern Territory; initially a strike for equal wages, it becomes a fight for traditional lands, giving birth to the national land rights movement. More on the Wave-Hill Walk-Off

1967: 90.77% of Australians vote ‘yes’ in the referendum on 27 May to alter the Australian Constitution, giving the Commonwealth Government the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and recognise them in the national Census. More on the 1967 referendum

1967: Council for Aboriginal Affairs is established by Prime Minister Harold Holt in response to the 1967 referendum

1968: Australia’s Black Power movement forms in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, advocating for self-determination

1969: Aborigines Advancement League becomes an all-Indigenous organisation


1970s

1970: Save the Gurindji campaign is launched in Sydney to support the Wave Hill strikers

1970: National Tribal Council (NTC) forms as a breakaway organisation from FCAATSI, signalling a broader move to all-Indigenous-operated organisations and a focus away from constitutional change to land rights and self-determination

1970: Aboriginal flag, designed by Harold Thomas and others, is flown for the first time on National Aboriginal Day in Adelaide

1970: Aboriginal Legal Service is established in Sydney, followed by the Aboriginal Medical Service in 1971

1971: Neville Bonner becomes the first Indigenous senator

1972: Aboriginal Tent Embassy is established at Parliament House, Canberra. More on the tent embassy

1972: Department of Aboriginal Affairs forms with responsibilities for Aboriginal policy and administration

1972: National Black Theatre is founded in Redfern, Sydney, and Nindethana Theatre in Melbourne

1973: National Aboriginal Consultative Committee is established by the Whitlam government to represent Indigenous Australians, becoming the National Aboriginal Conference in 1977

1975: Gough Whitlam returns a portion of traditional lands to the Gurindji people, on 16 August

1976: Douglas Nicholls becomes Governor of South Australia, the first and only Indigenous person to be appointed to a vice-regal position

1976: Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act is passed, paving the way for the formation of Central and Northern land councils, and Kimberley Land Council

1979: National Aboriginal Conference calls for a Treaty of Commitment between Indigenous people and government; conference abolished by Hawke government in 1985


1980s

1982: Meriam men Eddie Koiki Mabo, Reverend David Passi, Celuia Mapo Salee, Sam Passi and James Rice commence legal proceedings against the state of Queensland and the Commonwealth of Australia on 20 May, claiming ‘native title’ to Mer, Dauer and Waier islands in the Torres Strait

1985: Uluru (Ayers Rock) is formally handed back to traditional custodians

1986: Gurindji land claim is formally ratified

1987: Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody is established

1987­: Kevin Gilbert launches the Aboriginal Sovereign Treaty ’88 campaign, calling for a treaty enshrining Indigenous sovereign rights

1988: Bicentennial protests are held nationally, commencing in Sydney on 26 January, with thousands of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people marching from Redfern Park to Hyde Park


1990s

1990: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission replaces the Department of Aboriginal Affairs; it is abolished in 2005

1991: Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation is established as a statutory body under the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Act 1991

1991: Yothu Yindi’s ‘Treaty’ becomes the first song by a primarily Indigenous band to make the Australian charts

1992: Doctrine of terra nullius is overturned on 3 June by the High Court in Mabo v. Queensland (No. 2), recognising the native title of Meriam people. More on the Mabo decision

1992: Prime Minister Paul Keating delivers his ‘Redfern speech’, laying the basis for a new relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians

1992: Torres Strait Islander flag is flown for the first time, with a design attributed to Bernard Namok

1993: Australian Government passes the Native Title Act 1993 following the 1992 Mabo decision

1995: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags are recognised by the Australian Government as official ‘Flags of Australia’ under the Flags Act 1953

1996: High Court determines in the Wik Peoples v. Queensland claim that pastoral interests do not extinguish native title rights

1966: National Reconciliation Week is established

1997: Bringing Them Home, the report for the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families, is tabled on 26 May, with recommendations for a National Sorry Day, an apology and monetary compensation for victims

1998: Government amends the Native Title Act 1993 based on Prime Minister John Howard’s 10 Point Plan

1998: First National Sorry Day is held on 26 May


2000s

2000: Reconciliation Australia organises the Walk for Reconciliation across Sydney Harbour Bridge and similar events in capital cities across the country, with thousands of Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants marching together. More on the reconciliation walk

2007: Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act (2007), also known as ‘the intervention’, is legislated as a response to the Northern Territory Government’s Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children

2008­: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivers a national apology to the Stolen Generations, on 13 February. More on the apology


2010s

2012­: Federal government implements the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Act 2012 , replacing the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007; remains in legislation until 2022

2015: Referendum Council on constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is established with bipartisan support

Defining Moments

Defining Moments in Australian History features key moments in the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

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