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Defining Moments in Australian History

Defining Moments in Australian History

Starting with an initial list of 100 moments, we invite you to consider and debate these moments, and to suggest a defining moment of your own.

Join the conversation

The Australian story

Countless moments make up the Australian story – most pass unremarked and unremembered. But occasionally, something happens to change our story, to move us in a different direction, or to transform the way we think about ourselves.

Starting with a list of 100, the Museum invites Australians to consider and debate these moments, as well as suggest others they think significant. The list will grow and change over the life of the project.

What's new

5 May 2015

View through the fence at the Port Hedland Detention Centre
Port Hedland Immigration Reception and Processing Centre. Photo: Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, June 2002.

On 5 May 1991, the Australian Government requisitioned BHP’s defunct single men’s quarters in Port Hedland to use as a detention centre for refugees fleeing civil conflict in Cambodia. This significant moment in Australian history was a key step in the development of a policy of mandatory detention applied to people arriving in Australia without a visa, regardless of their method of arrival.

More on the Port Hedland detention centre

1 May 2015

Photograph of dingo looking out in grass on top of sand

On 1 May 1770, after visiting Botany Bay, Lieutenant James Cook and naturalist Joseph Banks recorded in their journals the presence of a native dog. This moment explores the complicated history of the dingo since its arrival in Australia.

More on the arrival of the dingo

May 2015
Black and white photograph of two Vietnamese boats and refugees in Darwin Harbour
Vietnamese refugees who have just arrived in Darwin Harbour. Northern Territory Archives Service.

On 26 April 1976, the first boatload of refugees fleeing Vietnam sailed into Darwin Harbour, heralding a series of arrivals over the next few years. The vast majority of refugees from Vietnam, however, arrived in Australia by plane after selection by Australian officials in refugee camps established throughout South-East Asia.

Our thanks to both Denise Moore and David Sinclair for suggesting this moment.

More on the first arrival of Vietnamese refugees by boat

May 2015

photo collage of Aboriginal cricketers
This photo collage was created by Peter Dawson of Hamilton in Victoria to promote the 1868 Aboriginal cricket team tour. National Museum of Australia.

In May 1868 the first Australian cricket team arrived in England for a series of matches. The team consisted of 13 Aboriginal men from the Western District of Victoria. They were coached and captained by an ex-all England cricketer, Charles Lawrence. The tour made headlines in England and Australia and continues to be a significant moment in Australia’s cricketing history, racial relations, and the cultural performance of our national identity.

More on the Aboriginal cricket team tour

28 April 2015

On this day in 1996, 35 people lost their lives and at least 18 more were injured when a lone gunman went on a shooting rampage in Port Arthur, Tasmania. Within four months of the tragedy, the recently elected Howard government had orchestrated a nationwide tightening of Australia’s state and territory gun laws, imposing hard-line restrictions on automatic, semi-automatic, pump-action and self-loading weapons, and introducing new licensing obligations for other types of guns. Australia’s gun laws had become some of the strictest in the world.

More on the Port Arthur massacre

26 April 2015
A coloured black and white photo of a building next a body of water with trees and grass in the background.
National Park, New South Wales, undated postcard, Josef Lebovic Gallery collection, National Museum of Australia.

On this day in 1879, the (later Royal) National Park was created just south of Sydney. It was Australia’s first national park, and only the second in the world.

More on the first national park

25 April 2015

Grainy black and white photo taken on board a boat full of Australian soldiers, with ships in background.
Men assembled on the forecastle of HMS London at sea off Lemnos, 24 April 1915. Australian War Memorial, A02468.

This moment commemorates the landing of Australian soldiers at what is now called Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula on this day in 1915. For the vast majority of the 16,000 Australians and New Zealanders who landed on that first day this was their first experience of combat. By evening 2000 of them had been killed or wounded.

The Gallipoli campaign was a military failure. However, the traits that were shown on the day of the landing: bravery, ingenuity, endurance and mateship, and reinforced through the six months of the campaign have, over the past century, become enshrined as defining aspects of the Australian character.

More on the Gallipoli landing

16 September 2014

The response to the launch of the Defining Moments project on 29 August has been very exciting. 

St Kilda's Nicky Winmar raising his jumper and pointing to his chest, 25 April 1993.
AFL player Nicky Winmar, 1993. Photo: Wayne Ludbey/Fairfax Syndication.

Many people have joined the conversation on our webpage and through social media – contributing their own defining moments and commenting on the Museum’s initial list of 100 moments.

A few suggested new moments have received considerable support – Australia’s first female Prime Minister has emerged as a key moment for many Australians, as has Cathy Freeman’s win in the 400-metres event at the Sydney Olympics.

Some new moments link to key objects held by the National Museum, such as the Nova Peris’s Olympic gold medal. Nova was a member of the Australian women's hockey team (the Hockeyroos) in 1996 and is the first Aboriginal Australian to have won an Olympic gold medal.

Another nominated moment recognises the impact of the arrival of Australia’s first Vietnamese refugees in 1976. The Museum explores the significance of this moment through our Tran Thi Nga collection, which features a Vietnamese refugee boat from 1978 – the Hong Hai.

Many conversations about the project have revolved around support for (and against!) moments on the Museum’s initial list. The strongest support has been voiced for the first moment on the list – that which recognises archaeological evidence of the first people on the Australian continent 52,000 years ago.

Other moments to have received popular support include: the 1966 Gurindji strike (or Wave Hill walk-off) led by Vincent Lingiari; the 1992 High Court decision in the Mabo case establishing native title; Nicky Winmar's stand against racism in 1993; and the 2008 National Apology to the Stolen Generations.

The Defining Moments project has also started some fascinating debates outside the Museum – stirring interest in the way particular moments have shaped our culture and society. For example, see The Conversation and The Australian.

29 August 2014

Defining Moments in Australian History was launched by The Hon Tony Abbott MP, Prime Minister of Australia, on 29 August 2014. Mr Abbott unveiled a plaque commemorating Captain Arthur Phillip's establishment of the convict settlement at Sydney Cove, in the month of the 200th anniversary of Phillip's death. More defining moments will be commemorated with plaques in coming months.

View more details and videos of the launch

Stay tuned

The list of moments will continue to grow. We hope you’ll have your say as we watch the list develop and change over the coming months.