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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.
Fred Maynard and his sister, Emma, Sydney, 1927. Photo: John Maynard

In 1924 the first organised, united Aboriginal activist group, the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association (AAPA), was formed in Sydney under the direction of Frederick Maynard.

Although the AAPA’s public activity was curtailed by the end of 1927 following fierce clashes with the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Board, its efforts laid the foundations for future activism.

Group of Aboriginal men, women and children standing with a chalk board which reads: 'Aborigines Conference / Day of Mourning'.
Day of Mourning protestors Australia Hall, Sydney, 26 January 1938. State Library of New South Wales, a429002

(left to right) William (Bill) Ferguson, Jack Kinchela, Isaac Ingram, Doris Williams, Esther Ingram, Arthur Williams Jr, Phillip Ingram, unknown, Louisa Agnes Ingram holding daughter Olive and Jack Patten

The Australian Aborigines League (AAL) was formed in Victoria in 1935 by William Cooper, Margaret Tucker and others, followed by the launch in 1937 of the Aborigines Progressive Association (APA) by Bill Ferguson in Sydney.

These organisations jointly staged the Day of Mourning for Aboriginal peoples in Sydney on 26 January 1938, coinciding with the Sesquicentenary, the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet.

A group of Indigenous activists on the front lawn of Old Parliament House, Canberra, mid 1960s.
(left to right) Esmai Jackomos, Alick Jackomos, Bert Groves, Joyce Clague, Laurie Moffatt and Dianne Murray. Indigenous activists at the annual conference of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI), Parliament House, Canberra, mid 1960s. AIATSIS, Alick Jackomos Collection, item Jackomos.A02.CS – 92138
Three politicians stand with four Aboriginal people in an office.
Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) lobbyists meet with Prime Minister Harold Holt, February, 1967. National Archives of Australia A1200, L62232

(left to right) Gordon Bryant MP, Faith Bandler, Prime Minister Harold Holt, Pastor Doug Nicholls, Burnum Burnum (Harry Penrith), Win Branson and WC Wentworth MP
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'.
Indigenous rights activist Ray Peckham presenting the case for the referendum at a rally in Sydney, 18 May 1967. Tribune/Search Foundation and State Library of New South Wales
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.
Bill Onus, president of the Aborigines Advancement League (Victoria), campaigning for the ‘yes’ vote, 1967. Fairfax Syndication
A group of people smiling and holding glasses aloft, with a child at the front of the group.
Faith Bandler (fourth from left) and others celebrating the referendum result, 1967. Bauer Media Australia/The Australian Women’s Weekly
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.
Setting up the Aboriginal Tent Embassy opposite Parliament House, Canberra, 26 January 1972. Tribune/SEARCH Foundation and Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

(left to right) Michael Anderson, Billy Craigie, Bertie Williams, Tony Koorey
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 on Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne, 1973. National Museum of Australia

(left to right) Monica Morgan, Sue Chilly, Bruce McGuinness and Hillary Saunders
Portrait of an Indigenous Australian man.
Eddie Koiki Mabo. Photo: John Whitteron, © Yarra Bank Films

Eddie Koiki Mabo was born on Mer (Murray Island) in 1936. He first spoke publicly in 1981 at a land rights conference at James Cook University. A year later, Mabo and four of his Meriam compatriots — Sam Passi, David Passi, Celuia Mapo Salee and James Rice — mounted a legal claim for ownership of their home island, Mer (Murray Island), challenging the concept of terra nullius:  that the continent was uninhabited when claimed under colonial rule.

A decade-long fight ensued through the courts. On 3 June 1992 the High Court ruling in Mabo v. Queensland (No. 2) rejected the notion of terra nullius, thereby recognising Meriam people as native title holders of their customary lands.

A woman with a joyous expression and wearing a brightly-patterned dress dances with clapsticks in front of onlookers outside the High Court.
Gladys Tybingoompa dances outside the High Court during the Wik Peoples v. Queensland case. Photo: Andrew Campbell/Fairfax Syndication

In December 1996 the Wik Peoples v. Queensland High Court claim successfully challenged the ruling that pastoral leases had extinguished native title rights.

People holding the Aboriginal flag at the People’s Walk for Reconciliation across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
People holding the Aboriginal flag at the People’s Walk for Reconciliation across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, part of the national Corroboree 2000 event organised by Reconciliation Australia, 28 May 2000. Photo: Rick Stevens/Fairfax Syndication
A large crowd of people sits on lawn, with a row of flagpoles extending into the distance.
Crowds gather for the apology to the Stolen Generations, at Parliament House, Canberra, 13 February 2008. National Museum of Australia
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