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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

17 February 2015
Florence, Doris and Melvie Gart – daughters of returned soldier Tom Garth
Florence, Doris and Melvie Garth – daughters of returned soldier Tom Garth and his wife Kate – at their soldier settlement farm ‘Glenyarri’ in the Carnamah district of Western Australia, about 1925. Courtesy Rob Mawson.

On this day in 1916, state and federal politicians and bureaucrats met in Melbourne for a three-day conference about settling First World War returned soldiers in rural areas. The delegates agreed that each state would develop its own scheme, funded by the federal government. Founded on visions of a hearty yeomanry happily settled into stable farming communities, the soldier settlement schemes went awry when ecological and economic realities imposed great hardship on soldier settlers and their families.

More on First World War soldier settlement

13 February 2015
Stolen Generations members Cecil Bowden, Manuel Ebsworth and Michael Welsh, accompanied by Jason Pitt and Pastor Ray Minniecon, in front of the gate from Kinchela Boys Home
Stolen Generations members Cecil Bowden, Manuel Ebsworth and Michael Welsh, accompanied by Jason Pitt and Pastor Ray Minniecon, in front of the gate from Kinchela Boys Home, at the National Museum of Australia, 7 June 2013. Photo by George Serras.

On this day in 1915, amendments to the Aborigines Protection Act 1909 became law that gave the New South Wales (NSW) Aborigines Protection Board the power to remove any Indigenous child at any time and for any reason. The phrasing of Section 13A of one amendment was so broad as to enable any interpretation by the Board’s inspectors, and led to thousands of Indigenous children being taken from their parents on the basis of race alone. This government-sanctioned practice was widespread across Australia, and created tens of thousands of members of what are now known as the Stolen Generations.

More on the NSW Aborigines Protection Act amendments 

13 February 2015
Invitation to Wendy Hermeston from the Prime Minister to attend the Apology to the Stolen Generations
Invitation to former Link-Up (NSW) caseworker Wendy Hermeston from the Prime Minister to attend the Apology to the Stolen Generations, Wendy Hermeston collection, National Museum of Australia.

On this day in 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd moved a Motion of Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples in the House of Representatives. The Apology was for past laws, policies and practices that devastated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – in particular members of the Stolen Generations. Many thousands attended Parliament House and Mr Rudd’s speech was broadcast live across the nation.

More on the National Apology to the Stolen Generations

3 February 2015
Pix magazine cover
Pix magazine cover, February 1954, Professor Peter Spearritt collection, National Museum of Australia.

On this day in 1954, Queen Elizabeth II arrived in Sydney to begin an eight-week tour of Australia. It was the first visit by a reigning British monarch and it met with overwhelming success. Australians turned out in their thousands to get a glimpse of their new Queen.

More on the 1954 royal tour of Australia 

1 February 2015
The Pill, released in America as Enovid
The Pill, released in America as Enovid. Wikimedia Commons.

On this day in 1961, married women in Australia could obtain the oral contraceptive pill for the first time.

More on the introduction of the oral contraception pill

1 February 2015
A recent version of the Medicare card.
A recent version of the Medicare card. Department of Human Services.

This is among the first of the publicly suggested moments that have been sent into the Museum since Defining Moments was launched. Denise Moore put forward as her Defining Moment in Australian History the introduction of Medicare, which took place on this day in 1984. We will be including more of the public moments as the project unfolds.

More on the launch of Medicare

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.