Aboriginal Culture - Timeline

Timeline - Pre-Contact

Rainbow Serpent
Rainbow Serpent by Barney Daniels Tgungurrayi, Luritja people, Haasts Bluff, Alice Springs , Northern Territory . Acquired in 1988.

This acrylic painting on linen shows Dreamtime hunters (U-shapes) searching for eggs of the rainbow serpent, 'Wanampi', which are hidden in underground caverns. Wanampi formed different features in the landscape around Papunya in the Northern Territory . These features are represented by the different colours in the background of the painting.

65 000 years ago

There is still uncertainty surrounding the exact timing of the initial human colonisation of Australia , and both the timing and nature of megaf au nal extinctions.

For more conservative archaeologists, the most commonly accepted age of initial human occupation is 40 000 years or 43 000 - 45 000 calendircal years after calibration (Allen 200:65; Mulvaney & Kaminga 1999). In contrast, Roberts et al. (1990;1993; 1998; 2001) and others argue for initial colonisation at 56 000 +/- 4 000 years, based on optical dates for two north Australian sites (N au walabila and Malakunanja). In south-east Australia, recent datings of the Lake Mungo 3 (LM3) human remains arrived at an age of about 60 000 years (more specifically, 56 000 - 68 000 years) using three different dating methods (Thorne et al. 1999). Although the use of three methods should yield a reliable age estimate with high accuracy, there is still much argument about the 'true' age of LM3, with several archaeologists and geomorphologists insisting it is more likely to be 43 000 years old.

31 000 years ago

Aborigines living at the Keilor site in Victoria .

20 000 years ago

Aboriginal people are well established throughout coastal and mainland Australia and Tasmania .

Some 10% of Tasmania is covered by glacial ice. Kutikina Cave is occupied by Tasmanian Aboriginal people at the height of the last ice age.

16 000 years ago

Sea levels begin to rise as ice caps melt. Inland lakes such as Lake Mungo have dried up.

13 000 years ago

Land bridges between mainland Australia and Tasmania are flooded. Tasmanian Aboriginal people become isolated for the next 12 000 - 13 000 years.

10 000 years ago

Present day Australian climate established.

8 000 years ago

The Torres Strait Islands are formed when the land bridge between Australia and New Guinea is flooded by rising seas.

6 000 years ago

The 'shape' of Australia 's coastline is defined by present sea level.

Settlement of Pacific Islands .

5 000 years ago

Dingo arrives in Australia .

400 years ago

Bone tool deposits at Otway Peninsula , Victoria suggest Aboriginal people were working with animal skins.


April 29 Captain James Cook in the Endeavour entered Botany Bay . After an encounter with local people in Botany Bay Cook wrote that "all they seem'd to want was us to be gone".


August 18 the British Government chose Botany Bay as a penal colony.


18 January Captain Arthur Phillip entered Botany Bay . A total of nine ships sailed into Botany Bay over three days.

Aboriginal people watched the arrival.

25 January Phillip sailed to Port Jackson and between 25 January and 6 February 1 000 officials, marines, dependents and convicts came ashore.

Frenchman La Perouse and two ships arrive at Botany Bay and remain until March 10.

Resistance and conflict between Europeans and Aborigines begins almost immediately.

Early February the French fire on Aborigines at Botany Bay .

29 May the first conflict between the First Fleet arrivals and Aborigines takes place near Rushcutters Bay , Sydney . Two convicts are killed.

December, Arabanoo is the first Aborigine captured by Europeans.

Captain Phillip estimates that there are 1 500 Aborigines living in the Sydney Region.


April, smallpox decimates the Aboriginal population of Port Jackson, Botany Bay and Broken Bay . The disease spread inland and along the coast.

The settlement spreads to Rose Hill, later called Parramatta .

November, Governor Phillip captures two Aboriginal men - Bennelong and Colebee. Colebee escapes but Bennelong is kept at Government House for five months.


Bennelong and a boy named Yemmerrawanie are taken to England by Phillip. Bennelong meets George III. Yemmarrawanie dies in England . In 1795 Bennelong returns to Australia .


April, Governor King orders Aborigines gathering around Parramatta , Georges River and Prospect Hill "to be driven back from the settler's habitation by firing at them".


June 30, Proclamation stating: "His Majesty forbids any act of injustice or wanton cruelty to the Natives, yet the settler is not to suffer his property to be invaded or his existence endangered by them, in preserving which he is to use the effectual, but at the same time the most humane, means of resisting such attacks".

Shortly after this Pemulwuy is shot by two settlers. Tedbury continues the resistance.


Settlements established near present-day Melbourne at Port Phillip and in Tasmania at Risdon, on the Derwent River by Governor King. The settlement at Port Phillip is abandoned.


Colonists are au thorised by Lt. Moore to shoot 50 Aborigines at Risdon Cove in response to Aboriginal resistance. Hostilities increase - the sl au ghter of Aborigines in Van Diemen's Land has begun.


Attacks on farms by Aboriginal people on the edge of Sydney . Macquarie sends Captain James Wallis with three detachments of the 76 th Regiment to arrest 'offenders'. They attack a camp near Appin at night and 14 Aborigines are killed including Carnabyagal.

4 May Macquarie announces a set of regulations controlling the free movement of Aboriginal people.

No Aboriginal person is to appear armed within a mile of any settlement and no more than six Aboriginal people are allowed to 'lurk or loiter near farms'.


January, Major Nunn's campaign. Mounted police, mostly European volunteers, set out in response to conflict on the Liverpool Plains, north central NSW. At Vinegar Hill, a site on 'Sl au ghterhouse Creek', 60 - 70 Aborigines are reported killed. The only European casualty is a corporal, speared in the leg.

11 April, "Faithful Massacre" at Owens Creek , Victoria . Ten Europeans travelling south from NSW with G. P. Faithful, killed by Aboriginal people.

'The Bushwack' or 'The Drive', against Aborigines, is initiated by squatters and their stockmen to clear the Myall Creek area, near present day Inverell, NSW.

On 10 June, the 'Myall Creek Massacre' occurs. 12 heavily armed colonists rounded up and brutally kill 28 Aborigines from a group of 40 or 50 people gathered at Henry Dangar's Station, at Myall Creek. The massacre was believed to be a payback for the killing of several hut keepers and two shepherds. But most of those killed were women and children and good relations existed between the Aboriginal people and European occupants of the station. 15 November, 11 Europeans were charged with murder but are acquitted. A new trial is held and seven men are charged with murder of one Aboriginal child. They are found guilty and hanged in December.

Competition between Aborigines and colonists develops for water on Bogan River , west of present day Dubbo. Seven Europeans and their overseer are killed on William Fee's outstation. Border Police formed after the Myall Creek Massacre, arrive from Bathurst and almost all men of the group involved are killed.

Reports of poisoning of Aborigines on 'Tarrone' near Port Fairy, West Melbourne and 'Kilcoy' north-west Moreton Bay . Flour is poisoned and left in shepherds' huts on 'Kilcoy' in the expectation that Aborigines now dispossessed of hunting ground would take it.


Governor Bourke of NSW ordered the establishment of the Native Police, in the Port Phillip district. They are trained to disperse groups of Aborigines. This force is disbanded in 1853.


The Board of National Education, established in NSW states "It is impractical to provide any form of education for the children of blacks".

Native Police are introduced into northern regions with headquarters at Callandoon near present day Goondiwindi, on the Macintyre River .


A select committee of the NSW Government claimed that protectors of Aborigines serve no purpose and should be abolished.

Land Commissioner McDonald reported widespread food shortages among Aborigines in the Murray District after their displacement by pastoralists who took their land for sheep stations.

December, Flinders Island Protectorate in Bass Strait abandoned after most Aborigines have died from various diseases.


150 Aborigines are killed resisting arrest in the Kimberley .


A settlement is established in Darwin .

Punitive expeditions are common in the north and north-west until the 1930s.

Act for "Protection and Management of Aboriginal Natives" is passed in Victoria .


The Maloga Mission is established as a refuge for the 9 000 surviving Aborigines in NSW.


8 May Truganini dies in Hobart aged 73. The Tasmanian Government does not recognise the Aboriginal heritage of people of Aboriginal descent and claims the last Tasmanian Aboriginal person has died. A falsehood many still believe today.


In the early 1870s the first Aboriginal children are enrolled in the public schools in NSW. By 1880 there are 200 Aboriginal children in school in NSW.

Timeline - Contact 1901 - 1969


1 January - Federation - The Commonwealth Constitution states "in reckoning the numbers of people... Aboriginal natives shall not be counted". It also states that the Commonwealth would legislate for any race except Aborigines. The states therefore retain their power over Aboriginal Affairs.


The Queensland Government establishes Cherbourg , an Aboriginal community, about 30 km from Gympie.

Lawyer cane wallaby trap
Lawyer cane wallaby trap. Acquired in 1898 from Atherton, north Queensland .

This trap was laid lengthwise along a wallaby track next to 10 or 11 others and disguised with foliage. Women and children made noises and beat the surrounding bush to drive the wallabies into the traps, where they would be speared by male hunters.


The Western Australia Aborigines Act is passed. Reserves are established, a local protector is appointed and rules governing Aboriginal employment are laid down.


The Invalid and Old Age Pension Act provides social security for all Australians except Aborigines.

1909 -10

NSW introduces The NSW Aborigines Act following crises in public schools. Aboriginal schools are established in NSW during the early part of the 20 th century. Exclusion of Aboriginal children from public schools followed requests by the European community. In NSW, there are 22 Aboriginal schools in 1910, 35 in 1920 and 40 in 1940. The syllabus stresses manual activities and the teacher is usually the reserve manager's untrained wife.

The Act also made it illegal for 'half castes' to live on reserves. In 1915 and 1918 amendments to the Act give the NSW Aborigines Protection Board greater powers to remove children for training as domestic servants.


The Victorian Aborigines Act permitted the Board for Protection of Aborigines to help 'half castes' by licensing needy persons to live on stations.

An inquiry is held into the Forest River Massacre in the Kimberley .

The Aborigines Protection Board Act is passed which gives the Protection Board 'legal' control over Aborigines on stations and reserves but not missions, in the Northern Territory .


The South Australian Aboriginal Act is this state's first legislation relating directly to Aborigines.


Maternity Allowance is introduced does not included Aboriginal people.


The United Church in North Australia opens an Aboriginal mission on South Goulburn Island .


The Queensland Government establishes an Aboriginal station - Palm Island - in the Palm Isles.

The Northern Territory Aboriginal Ordinance Act "ensured that Aborigines could not drink or possess or supply alcohol or methylated spirits, could not come within 2 chains of licensed premises, have firearms, marry a non-Aborigines without permission or have sex across the colour line".

The Ordinance also forbids mining on Aboriginal Reserve Land .


Groote Eylandt , in the Gulf of Carpentaria , is named an Aboriginal Reserve. A number of missions have been established here.

Aboriginal population of Australia is estimated to be 60 000. It is widely believed to be a 'dying race'.


The Church Missionary Society of the Church of England set up a mission at Oenpelli, Central Australia . The Aboriginal community later run a water buffalo farm and sell X-ray style bark paintings.


Conniston Massacre in the Northern Territory . Europeans shoot 32 Aborigines after a European Dingo trapper, and a station holder are attacked by Aborigines.

A court of inquiry says the Europeans' action was 'justified'. Aborigines are refused legal aid by the Federal Government.

Some reserves are leased to non-Aboriginal settlers in Victoria .


Queensland Protector of Aborigines recommends to the Federal Government that Aborigines be assimilated where they are in contact with European society and that inviolable reserves be established for tribal people.


Victorian William Cooper, petitions the King to have an Aboriginal representative in the Lower House of Federal Parliament. A similar attempt is made in NSW. They are unsuccessful.

In the 1930s clashes occur between Aborigines and Japanese fishers on the coast of Arnhem Land . Several Japanese are fatally speared.

Gradual change occurs in attitudes of non-indigenous people. Passive policies become more positive. Welfare Organisations and anthropologists become more active.


At Caledon Bay , Western Australia , a Japanese and three Europeans are killed by the local landowners.


The Arnhem Land Reserve is declared.


The Methodist Overseas Mission establishes Yirrakala, an Aboriginal community on the Gove Peninsula, Northern Territory. It was later taken over by the United Church in North Australia .

A Roman Catholic Mission is established at Port Keats, Northern Territory .


At a conference of state and federal officials called by the Federal Government, assimilation for some Aborigines is adopted as official policy. Part Aborigines are to be assimilated into white society whether they want to be or not, Aborigines not living a tribe life are to be educated and all others are to stay on reserves.

June, William Ferguson, l au nches in Dubbo, NSW, the Aborigines Progressive Association, in opposition to the Aborigines Protection Board, after officials of the Board had arbitrarily used their powers to harass Aboriginal people.

The Presbyterian Church establishes a mission - Ernabella - in the Musgrave Ranges , South Australia .


On 26 January, 150 years after European occupation, the Aboriginal Progressive Association declares a Day of Mourning. An Aboriginal Conference is held in Sydney . These are the first of many Aboriginal protests against inequality, injustice, dispossession of land and protectionist policies.

For the Europeans 'celebration' of 150 years of "settlement" in NSW, Aborigines are trucked to Sydney to take part in the re-enactment of the British landing on 26 January 1788 . Aboriginal people are threatened with starvation if they do not play their role.

NSW Government changes Aboriginal policy from protection to assimilation following the 1937 conference.

December, Albert Namatjira holds his first exhibition in Melbourne , of 41 works. All works are sold in three days.


Protest at Cumeroogunga, NSW, over malnutrition and ill treatment.

The Aborigines Protection Board in South Australia is established.

As a result of the 1937 conference Queensland passes legislation allowing Aborigines to receive workers' compensation. Also as a result of this conference a Native Affairs Branch is set up in the Northern Territory .


Amendments to the NSW Aborigines protection legislation results in the replacement of the Aborigines Protection Board with the NSW Aborigines Welfare Board. Responsibility for Aboriginal Education is transferred to the Department for Education, which takes control of reserve buildings and started to provide trained teachers.

The Aborigines Progressive Association had campaigned to bring about reforms to the NSW Protection Board.

In the 1940s most Federal social security benefits are extended to Aborigines.

Increased mining developments in the 1940s in Western Australia brings protest from Aboriginal people concerned about their land. This lays the basis for the Pindan movement which was to grow from the 1946-49 strike by Aboriginal pastoral workers.


The Child Endowment Act is passed but not endowment is paid to nomadic or dependent Aborigines.


The numbers of power of district protectors in Western Australia is increased.


Darwin is bombed by the Japanese. Many Aboriginal people are relocated to 'control camps' and restrictions are places on Aboriginal movement, especially women. In Arnhem Land Aboriginal people make up special reconnaissance unit in defence against the Japanese.

The United Church in North Australia set up an Aboriginal mission on Elcho Island , Northern Territory .


A further amendment to the Aboriginal protection legislation in NSW, gives two Aboriginal people - one 'full-blood' and one 'half caste' - representation on the Aboriginal Welfare Board. Walter Page and William Ferguson, both Aboriginal Progressive Association members, take up the positions.


2 October, Education Gazette, NSW, states "children of any Aborigine securing an Exemption Certificate are to be admitted to the ordinary public school".


Aboriginal cattle station workers in the Port Hedland district, Western Australia , strike for a pay increase. They are getting 10 shillings a week and are supplied with blankets. The Aborigines then formed a co-operative to mine alluvial wolfram which was successful.

An investigation shows Aborigines on Lord Vestey's Northern Territory cattle station are getting poor rations, inadequate housing, water and sanitation facilities, and are paid less than the 5/- a day minimum wage, which was set for Aborigines in a 1918 Ordinance. European males are receiving 2pounds/8/- a week in 1945.


Aboriginal children need a medical certificate to attend public schools.

Aboriginal pastoral workers in the Pilbara, Western Australia , strike over pay, conditions and ill treatment.


The Commonwealth Citizenship and Nationality Act for the first time gives a category of "Australian Citizenship" to all Australians, including all Aborigines. However, at state level Aborigines still suffer legal discrimination.

The Coranderrk Lands Act alienates Victoria 's only 'permanent reservation'. In 1951 the remainder of Lake Condah reserve is revoked despite Aboriginal resistance.


The Commonwealth Electoral Act extends the franchise to Aboriginal ex-service men only.

Douglas Nicholls, an Aboriginal pastor is unsuccessful in petitioning the King to have an Aboriginal representative in the Victorian Parliament.


The first formal schooling for Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory is provided. Lack of facilities is rationalised by the claim that children "beyond the age of 10 couldn't keep up with white children anyway".

Aboriginal children assimilate into NSW local schools, if all other parents agree. This right of veto is removed in 1960.


The Northern Territory Welfare Ordinance makes Aboriginal people wards of the government, basically making Aboriginal adults and children, minors.

Atom tests are conducted on Maralinga lands at Emu, South Australia . They are code named Operation Totem. A black cloud passes and many Aboriginal people suffer radiation sickness.


The Australian Capital Territory Aboriginal Welfare Ordinance is passed. Before this, Aborigines in the ACT come under NSW law. Most Aborigines in the ACT are living at Jervis Bay . The ordinance is repealed in 1965.


Further atom tests at Maralinga , South Australia - Operation Buffalo.


Operation Antler atom tests at Maralinga , South Australia . The presence of Aboriginal people on the test site is documented

The Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders is set up. This group combines a number of civil rights and Aboriginal welfare organisations. The work of this group plays a large part in bring about the 1967 Referendum.

Formation of the NADOC - National Aboriginal Day Observance Committee.


Aboriginal men Ernie Mitchell and Peter Coffin receive 50 pounds in damages for slander against an ABC reporter in Western Australian.


The Victorian (Houses) Act encourages a rehousing policy.

The Victorian Aborigines Advancement League begins assisting residents of the Cumeroogunga reserve, NSW, in their fight to regain land leased since the 1920s. When the lease ended in 1960 the co-operative, Cumeroogunga Pty Ltd, began farming the land.


December, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies is formed in Canberra .


The Commonwealth Electoral Act is amended to give the vote to all Aboriginal people.

The Aboriginal Affairs Act in South Australia reconstituted the Aborigines Protection Board and South Australian Department of Aboriginal Affairs. The Act also limited mining on reserves by people other than Aborigines.

Aboriginal people in Queensland , Western Australia and the Northern Territory are given the right to vote in Federal elections. Aboriginal people are not made to register but once they have voting is compulsory.

In NSW the prohibition on Aboriginal access to alcohol is removed.


in July a bark petition against mining on the Gove Peninsula is drawn up by the senior men of the affected clans. On 28 August the petition is presented to the Governor General. Although it is signed by more senior clan members, the Federal Government fails to recognise Aboriginal political structure and rejects the petition bec au se of insufficient signatures. Also in August, a select committee on the grievances of Aborigines at Yirrkala on the Gove Peninsula is appointed. From the 1 - 3 September the committee visits Yirrkala. Their report is tabled in Parliament in October.

Police evict residents at Mapoon , Queensland . The people are taken to other reserves and their settlement is burned down, to allow mining by Comalco.

BHP and the Church Missionary Society at Groote Eylandt , Northern Territory sign an agreement which provides a lump sum payments and royalties for use of land by BHP.

The Western Australian Native Welfare Act repeals the 1905 Act and alters the definition of an Aboriginal person and eligibility for aid.


The Northern Territory Social Welfare Ordinance replaces the Welfare Ordinance supposedly putting Aboriginal people on the same level as other Australians. But the Ward's Employment Ordinance remains in force leaving Aboriginal people on Christian missions and government settlements, about two-thirds of the Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory , unequal in employment, wages, vocational training and housing.


Integration Policy is introduced, meaning Aboriginal people are supposed to have more control over their life and society.

Northern Territory patrol officers 'bring in' the last group of Aboriginal people - the Pintubi people - living an independent life in the desert. The Pintubi people are relocated to Papunya and Yuendumu.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders' Affairs Act, passed in Queensland , gives the Director of Aboriginal Affairs considerable power over 'assisted' Aborigines. For example, an assisted Aborigine could be detained for up to a year for behaving in an 'offensive, threatening, insolent, insulting, disorderly, obscene or indecent manner', or 'leaving, escaping or attempting to leave or escape for the reserve'.

In the Northern Territory Supreme Court, Frank Ganngu and Elsie Darbuma's application for the return of their three children, who were taken from the leprosarium at the Oenpelli mission and fostered out, is rejected.


Stockmen and women at Wave Hill walk-off in protest against intolerable working conditions and inadequate wages. They establish a camp at Watti Creek and demand the return of some of their traditional lands. This began a seven year fight by the Gurindji people to obtain title to their land.

Cumeroogunga Pty Ltd become 'tenants at will' of the NSW Aboriginal Welfare Board under an agreement to farm the remainder of the Cumeroogunga reserve.

The South Australian Prohibition of Discrimination Act is the first of its kind in Australia and bans all types of race and colour discrimination in employment, accommodation, legal contracts and public facilities.

The South Australian Lands Trust Act is the first legislation providing land ownership and compensation to dispossessed Aboriginal people. The Act set up a trust composed of Aboriginal people. It enabled Aborigines to obtain specific title to reserves, where reserves existed.

Charles Perkins and Margaret Valadian are the first Aboriginal university graduates.


The Commonwealth Referendum passes. This ends constitutional discrimination and all Aboriginal people are now counted in the national census. It also means that the Federal Government can now legislate for Aboriginal people in the states and share the responsibility for Aboriginal Affairs with state governments. All states except Queensland , abandon laws and policies that discriminate against Aboriginal people. The first census fully including Aboriginal people is in 1971.

The Gurindji people petition the Governor General for 1 295 square kilometres of their land to be excised from Wave Hill pastoral lease.


Aboriginal workers are included in the Northern Territory Cattle Industries Award.

Nabalco and the Federal Government sign an agreement giving Nabalco a 42 year special lease to mine b au xite near Yirrkala in the Arnhem Land reserve.

Desecration of the Weebo Site in Western Australia eventually led to the Western Australian Heritage Act being proclaimed in 1972.

The Commonwealth Office of Aboriginal Affairs is established and in 1972 becomes the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.


Aborigines Welfare Board in NSW is abolished.

The Federal Government establishes the National Aboriginal Sports Foundation to help finance sports activities.

An Aboriginal delegation goes to New York and presents a statement on Australian Aborigines to the Office of the UN Secretary-General.

The NSW Aborigines Act transfers control to the directorate within the NSW Department of Youth and Community Services. An Aboriginal Advisory Council is set up. The directorate is abolished in 1975 and the staff transferred to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.

Timeline - Contact 1970 - 2000


Aboriginal trustees of the Lake Tyer and Framlingham reserves in Victoria are granted individual land title, not communal title as most preferred as this would prevent sections being sold off, as they later were.

The Wandjina
'The Wandjina' by Raymond J. Meeks, Sydney , New South Wales . Acquired about 1984.

This painting shows a mythical Wandjna figure. Wandjinas are thought to bring monsoonal rains to the Kimberley region of Western Australia .

The Gibb Inquiry looks into the situation of Aboriginal people on pastoral properties in the Northern Territory . The government is slow to create living areas or excisions in pastoral properties.

Some people from Maningrida in the Northern Territory , left and went back to a preferred way of life on their home estates. These estates were called 'outstations' and later 'homeland centres'. By 1972 many people had moved back to their traditional homelands.

The Tasmanian Aboriginal Parks and Wildlife Service names areas at West Point , Sundown Point and Mt Cameron West as Aboriginal sites.


Noonkanbah station workers walk off.

Gumatj Elders Millrrpum and others take on Nabalco Pty Ltd and the Federal Government in the Gove Land Rights Case following on from the bark petition. The Northern Territory Supreme Court ruled that Aboriginal people did not, under Australian law own the Arnhem Land reserve. This meant Nabalco could mine the land.

Larrakia people 'sit-in' at Bagot Road , Darwin as a protest against theft of their land.

Queensland Aborigines Act is passed. Under it some legal restrictions for Aboriginal people living on reserves are maintained. Aboriginal cultural customs are banned and reading matter, mail, recreation, and marital and sexual relationships are censored. Their work and wage worth can be decreased and their movements recorded.

NSW Aboriginal Legal Service is formed.

The Northern Territory Ordinance is repealed.

Neville Bonner become the first Aboriginal member of Parliament when he filled a casual Senate vacancy. In 1972 he is elected on the Liberal Party ticket in Queensland .

Evonne Goolagong wins the women's singles at Wimbledon .


January - July the 'Aboriginal Embassy' is pitched outside Parliament House in Canberra , demonstrating for land rights.

14 July, National Aborigines Day there are Australia wide strikes and marches by Aboriginal people.

23 August, NSW Director-General of Education approved the removal of the section of the teachers' handbook that allowed school principals the right to refuse enrolment to Aboriginal children bec au se of home conditions or substantial opposition from the community.

Aboriginal Heritage Act is proclaimed in Western Australia .

The Whitlam Government introduces a policy of self-determination.

December, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs was established by the Whitlam Government. By 1975 offices had been established in all states and only Queensland had not transferred to the department all major responsibilities for Aboriginal policy and administration.

December, the Whitlam Government freezes all applications for mining and exploration on Commonwealth Aboriginal reserves.

A community controlled Aboriginal Medical Service is set up in Redfern, Sydney. The first in Australia .


Mr Justice Woodward of the Aboriginal Land Commission delivers his first report, showing the way for a new approach to Aboriginal Land Rights.

Department of Aboriginal Affairs begins a national program to improve the health and health services of Aboriginal people.

The National Aboriginal Consultative Committee is set up to advise the Federal Government on Aboriginal affairs. Aborigines elect the members.

Cumeroogunga Pty Ltd buy back adjacent land after receiving a grant from the Capital Loan Fund.

The NSW Aboriginal Land Trust is set up to receive freehold ownership of former Aboriginal reserves.


Justice Woodward's second report says "to deny Aborigines the right to prevent mining on their land is to deny the reality of their Land Rights". His report is accepted in principle by all political parties and most states.

A Commonwealth Act establishes the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission to buy land for Aboriginal corporate groups. Since then many properties have been acquired throughout Australia . The fund was replaced by the ADC (Aboriginal Development Council) in 1980.


11 June, Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act comes into force.

The National Aboriginal and Islander Health Organisation is set up.

Gurindji people receive leasehold title to some of their traditional land in the Northern Territory .

The World Council of Indigenous People is founded.

1975 - 1976

The Laverton Royal Commission in Western Australia investigating clashes between police and Aboriginal people at Laverton and Skull Creek in December, 1974 and January, 1975, found that police were unable to justify arrests and that some parts of the police story had been invented. The Premier, Sir Charles Court , dismissed the report as "a waste of money".

Ranger Uranium and Environmental Inquiry examines the effects of mining on Aboriginal people.


Establishment of the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG).

The Aboriginal Land Rights ( Northern Territory ) Act is passed by the Federal Parliament. It provides recognition of Aboriginal land ownership by about 11 000 Aboriginal people. It enables traditional Aboriginal lands to be granted to the Aboriginal Lands Trust.

Three Land Councils are founded and an office of Aboriginal Land Commissioners is created.

In first claim under the Act, Mr Justice Fox, who ran the Ranger Uranium and Environmental Inquiry recommends that traditional owners in the Alligator River region be granted land. Mining and tourism continue to operate in the area.

The Pitjantjatjara Council is formed.


The National Aboriginal Education Committee is established.

NSW Anti-Discrimination Act comes info force.

NSW Land Council is established by Aboriginal people in Sydney .

Aboriginal woman Isobel Coe received $100 in damages in the Moree District Court, NSW against Malcolm Barber who refused her entrance to his bar.

The Northern, Central and Tiwi Land Councils are established under the Land Rights (NT) Act.

Mr Justice Toohey is appointed Land Commissioner in the Northern Territory .

The first Land Claim hearing to Crown land at Borroloola commences.

The National Trachoma and Eye Health Program finds that of 60 000 Aboriginal people examined, more than half have trachoma. The infect rate is as high as 80 percent in some areas.


Pat O'Shane becomes the first Aboriginal law graduate and barrister.

The Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Ordinance is passed, instituting prosecution for trespass and desecration of Aboriginal sites.

The South Coast Aboriginal Regional Council in NSW is formed by Aboriginal people living between Wollongong and Eden .

Land titles are granted to 15 Aboriginal Land Trusts in the Northern Territory .

Western Australian Government agrees that some of the money earned by mining land held by the Aboriginal Lands Trusts "would go to the Aborigines".

The Kimberley Land Council is formed. It received no Government assistance.

The North Queensland Land Council is established without any government assistance.

The Northern Territory is given self-government by the Fraser Government.

3 November the Northern Land Council and Commonwealth Government signed the Ranger uranium mining agreement.


The Aboriginal Development Commission is established.

In Coe v Commonwealth , Coe is unsuccessful in challenging the legal concept that Australia had been an uninhabited land which had been settled not conquered.

By 1979 NSW Land Trust had gained 144 properties, all former Aboriginal reserves.

June, the Western Australian Supreme Court grants and injunction against the American-based Amax company which want to explore Noonkanbah for oil. Test drilling finally goes ahead despite Aboriginal resistance which is supported by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people across Australia .


The Pitjantjatjara Council advises the Aboriginal Affairs Minister of the possible radioactive contamination of Aboriginal people at Wallatinna Station , South Australia as a result of atomic tests. The 'Black Mist' of 1953 is brought to public attention with symptoms if sight loss and skin rashes being reported. A number of Aboriginal people die as a result of the British atomic tests and up to 1 000 are directly affected.

September, the National Federation of Land Councils is formed.


Pitjantjatjara people of South Australia are granted land under the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act (SA). A large area of the state is returned to the Anangu Pitjantjatjara.


Victorian Premier Cain announces legislation is to be passed recognising the Aboriginal ownership of the Framlingham Forest near Warrnambool.

Aboriginal people at the Hermannsburg mission are granted freehold title.

October, Queensland Aboriginal people protest at the Commonwealth Games.

Northern Land Council sign an agreement with the Pan-Continental mining company allowing the company to mine uranium at Jabiluka.

Death of Joe Pat in Roebourne (WA) gaol. The first death in custody to be widely protested and eventually leads to the setting up of the Muirhead enquiry.

The Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act is upheld as able to override inconsistent state laws.


In September a Northern Territory Aboriginal Land Inquiry is established by the Federal Government. Prime Minister Hawke announces the removal of Aboriginal peoples' limited right to say 'yes' or 'no' to mining on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory in the context of 'Uniform Land Rights'.

A Royal Commission is opened into the British Nuclear Tests.


Uluru is handed back to the traditional owners.

In the 'Come to Canberra Campaign' joint land councils from the Northern Territory and the States go to Parliament House, Canberra to protest against the proposed changes to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act of the Northern Territory and the inadequate provisions in Hawke's visions of 'Uniform National Land Rights'.

The Pitjantjatjara council makes an agreement with Amoco Petroleum for exploration on 20 000 square kilometres of their land.


Northern Territory elections are held and for the first time voting is compulsory for Aboriginal people.

A Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody begins.

Imparja Television Company receives the first TV Broadcasting license issued to an Aboriginal organisation.


Long March. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders from around Australia converge on Sydney for protest on 26 January. 1988 is a year of celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander survival.

Barunga Statement. Prime Minister Hawke affirms that the Government is committed to work for a negotiated Treaty with Aboriginal People.

Second Aboriginal cricket team tours England .

Human Rights Commission reports that conditions at Toomelah and Boggabilla settlements are worse than third world countries.

Justice Muirhead presents interim report on Black Deaths in Custody.


The NSW Taskforce on Aboriginal Heritage and Culture recommends that responsibility for Aboriginal Heritage be removed form the National Parks and Wildlife Service and that a separate Aboriginal Heritage Commission be established.

A resolution on Aboriginal prior ownership and dispossession is passed at the opening of the new Parliament House in Canberra . It is not supported by the Liberal Party.


The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Act passes through Federal Parliament with cross-party support. The Council is formed.

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody presents its Report and Recommendations to the Federal Government.

Legislation providing for land rights in Queensland are passed - the Aboriginal Land Act 1991 and the Torres Strait Land Act 1991. They are greatly inferior to the standard set by the Northern Territory legislation.

The Upper House in Tasmania rejects land rights legislation for Aboriginal people.


Torres Strait Islander flag designed.

The High Court of Australia rules in the Mabo case that native title exists over particular kinds of lands - unalienated Crown Lands, national parks and reserves - and that Australia never was terra nullius or 'empty land'.

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs invokes the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Act to protect women's sites near Alice Springs , threatened by a dam proposed by the Northern Territory Government.

The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation issues its Strategic Plan for the next three years.

Prime Minister Keating's Redfern speech at the l au nch of the International Year of the indigenous People acknowledged past wrongs.


International Year of Indigenous People.

The Office of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner is established by the Federal Government in response to issues of discrimination and disadvantage highlighted by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's National Inquiry into Racist Violence.

30 June 1993 the Wik Peoples make a claim for native title in the Federal Court of Australia for land on the Cape York Peninsula in Queensland . Native Title Act does not pass through Parliament until December 1993.


Native Title Act 1993 becomes law on 1 January

Going Home Conference in Darwin . Representatives from every state and territory met to share experiences, and expose the history of the removal of Aboriginal children from their families and the effects of this policy on Aboriginal people.


29 January, Justice Drummond in the Federal Court makes a decision that the claim of the Wik and Thayorre Peoples could not succeed over the areas that were subject to pastoral leases. The Judge's reason was that he considered that the grant of pastoral leases under Queensland law extinguished any native title rights.

The Wik and Thayorre peoples appeal to the High Court.

In May the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families is established in response to efforts made by key Indigenous agencies and communities.


September, the Jawoyn people in the Katherine region of the Northern Territory sign on to the largest single commercial deal in Australian history involving Aboriginal interests. The signing is a major expansion of Aboriginal involvement in the Pegasus Mt Todd Gold Mine.

15 November, the Federal Government under Howard sees economic development as the key to the success of its indigenous affairs policy. Senator John Herron, Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs sets out the government's broad policy in his Lyons Lecture in Canberra and says "As a Government we believe in economic independence and restoration of self-esteem".

23 December, The Wik Decision - the High Court reversed Justice Drummond's judgement. The High Court found that pastoral leases did not necessarily extinguish native title and that both could co-exist but where there was a conflict native title rights were subordinate to the rights of the pastoral lease holder.


March, Hamersley Iron and the Gumala Aboriginal Corporation finalise a unique regional land use agreement making the way of the $500 million Yandicoogina iron ore mine in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The agreement was the result of 20 months of consultation and negotiation.

10 March, Alcan South Pacific Pty Ltd enters into a detailed Heads of Agreement with the Aboriginal community in Weipa, Cape York , for a proposed b au xite mining and shipping operation from Alspac's existing mining lease at Ely, north of Weipa.

3 April, 12 months negotiations between the Arakwal people, NSW State Government and the Byron Bay Shire result in an agreement over a new recreation are in Byron Bay . The Arakwal sisters secure a say in the management of the new park in the area.

7 April, the Dunghutti Aboriginal people of NSW and other stakeholders negotiate the first successful claim under the Native Title Act.

25 May, National Sorry Day - a day for organisations to apologies for the removal of Aboriginal children from their families. A chance for all Australians to recognise the pain thousands of Aboriginal people went through. The first 'Sorry Day' is marked by hundreds of activities around the country. The Australian Federal Government does not take part in 'Sorry Day', saying people who removed Aboriginal children thought they were doing the right thing and people now should not have to say sorry for what people did in the past.

26 May, The 700-page report of the 'Stolen Children' National Inquiry 'Bringing them home', was tabled in Federal Parliament.

26 - 28 May, Australian Reconciliation Convention. At least 100 conference delegates turn their backs on the Prime Minister Howard as he addresses the conference.

April - May, in response to the Wik decision the Federal Government under Howard develops its 10 Point Plan as the basis for amending the Native Title Act 1993. These amendments are introduced in the Spring Session (September 1997) of the Commonwealth Parliament.


Native Title Amendements Act Amendments to the Act brought about by the High Court's Wik Decision.


27 May - 3 June Corroboree 2000 - National Reconciliation Week.

28 May, People's Walk for Reconciliation across the Sydney Harbour Bridge on Sunday 2000.

27 May, is the anniversary of the 1967 Referendum in which more than 90 percent of Australians voted to give the Commonwealth the power to make laws for Aboriginal people and for Aboriginal people to be counted in the census.

3 June marks the anniversary of the High Court's Mabo judgement in 1992 which recognised the native title rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and overturned the notion of terra nullius .

The following references were used in compiling this timeline.
Bostock, Lester, 1990 The Greater Perspective, Special Broadcasting Service
Fraser, Bryce, (ed) 1983 The Macquarie Book of Events, Weldon,
Directorate of Special Programs, NSW Department of Education, 1982 Aboriginal Australia, a Preliminary Chronology
Jonas, Bill and Langton, Marcia 1994 The Little Red, Yellow and Black (and Green and Blue and White) Book, AIATSIS
Horton, D (ed) 1994 Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia, Aboriginal Studies Press
Butler, Kevin, Cameron, K & Percival, B 1995 The Myth of Terra Nullius, Invasion and Resistance -the early years, Board of Studies