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