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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

24 March 2015
Quilt made from 140 individually designed squares
The Australian Citizenship Quilt. Department of Immigration and Citizenship Australian Citizenship Quilt collection, National Museum of Australia.

On this day in 1966, the Holt Government introduced the Migration Act, which established legal equality between British, European and non-European migrants to Australia.

These changes to immigration policy helped lead to the removal of the White Australia policy and the formation of multicultural Australia.

More on the end of the White Australia policy

20 March 2015
Engraving by Samuel John Neele of James Grant’s image of ‘Pimbloy’ is believed to be the only known depiction of Pemulwuy
This engraving by Samuel John Neele of James Grant’s image of ‘Pimbloy’ is believed to be the only known depiction of Pemulwuy. National Library of Australia, vn2312357.

Two years after the arrival of the First Fleet, Aboriginal warrior Pemulwuy began to resist the incursion of white settlers onto his people’s traditional lands. Despite being seriously wounded in 1797, he eluded capture until 1802 when he was shot dead. Pemulwuy’s head was cut off and sent to Sir Joseph Banks for his collection.

More on Pemulwuy

14 March 2015
Black and white photograph of Do HV Evatt
Doc Evatt by Max Dupain, 1951. National Library of Australia, an20044946.

Since forming in the 1890s, the Australian Labor Party had experienced schisms between rival factions. In 1955, the most serious of these occurred. It would leave the party on the opposition benches for nearly 20 years.

More on the ALP split

12 March 2015
ceremony thumbnail
Official ceremony on Capital Hill to mark the commencement of work on Canberra. State Library of New South Wales, a1528132.

On this day in 1913, the Governor-General’s wife, Lady Denman, announced that Canberra was the name of Australia’s new national capital. Just as construction of the city got underway, Canberra’s development was severely delayed by both world wars and the Great Depression. However, following the Second World War, Canberra began to grow and now is home to nearly 400,000 people.

More on the founding of Canberra

4 March 2015
Convict uprising at Castle Hill 1804
Convict uprising at Castle Hill 1804, unknown artist. National Library of Australia, an5577479.

The Castle Hill Rebellion, Australia’s first uprising, happened on this day in 1804. The rebellion was an attempt by a group of Irish convicts to overthrow British rule in New South Wales and return to Ireland where they could continue to fight for an Irish republic. Ending in disaster, the ill-fated rebellion resulted in the death of at least 39 convicts in both ‘Australia’s Battle of Vinegar Hill’ itself and ensuing martial law punishments. The Castle Hill Rebellion is one of ‘Your defining moments’ and was suggested by David Geoffrey. 

More on the Castle Hill Rebellion

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.