The History of the Aboriginal People


Aboriginal History Pre-Contact

The Aboriginal people are the earliest surviving culture in the history of humankind, having set sustainable ways to manage their society and culture that ensured good health. They have inhabited Australia for no less than 60,000 years. There were significant contact and trade between the mixed peoples who occupied this continent; however, there was no contact, no interchange of knowledge or cultures among the rest of the world and the First Nations people of Australia.

These first inhabitants are also known as the First Nations People. By the time Cook arrived in 1770, there were roughly three-quarters of a million Aboriginal Peoples in Australia. This population was divided into 600 distinct language groups spread across the continent. They spoke about 200 distinct languages or dialects.


Creation, Land, and Survival

The Aborigines believed the earth was formed in the far off past during a sacred age known as the ‘Dreaming’ or ‘Dreamtime’ or ‘Tjkurrpa’ which means ‘to see and understand the law’ when translated from the Arrente language. Dreaming passed on key cultural values, belief systems and important knowledge to the younger generations.

Through storytelling, paintings, songs and dance, which convey the dreaming stories, the Aborigines have preserved a connection with the ancient Dreaming to present days leading to the creation of a rich cultural heritage. The Aboriginal people believed ancestral spirits came from the seas, sky, and ground and most of these spirits could change their form from human to animal to plant. As they moved over the land, they created natural features and all life forms including; people, birds, fish, insects, animals, and plants. For instance, tales about how the sun was made by the Rainbow Serpent are told so that ties with their ancestors are perpetuated.

After Creation, the ancestral spirits vanished into the earth, sky or water after living signs of their stay on earth. These signs came in the form of rocks, trees, billabongs, rivers, hills, caves and other forms of physical features.

The Dreaming was a unifying trait in all indigenous culture; however, each tribe in Australia had its own distinct Dreaming. In all groups, Dreaming described how worldly features came to be, and also justified the significance of their sacred sites. Also, it set rules on how persons should behave, especially towards the land. Dreaming gave direction and meaning to all indigenous groups and continues to do so.

The power of the ancestral spirits can be felt through the land and landforms. The spirits never died; instead, it’s widely believed that they lived on through various forms. Through this, there’s a strong connection between the past and present, hence obliging the indigenous peoples to protect the land, animals, and plants as well as care for sacred sites.

There’s a strong creation between the people, land and animals in the Aboriginal culture. The survival of the Aboriginal Peoples hinged on their mastery and comprehension of utilising the earth or land to obtain food. They had to understand the various seasonal changes because they had an effect on the volume and type of food they could obtain. Seasons also impacted on when and where to obtain various types of foods. For these reasons, the preservation of land was of utmost importance because it was essential for life.


Dreaming Legends

Legends or Dreaming anecdotes from all over Australia reveal that the Aboriginal people believed in a Great Spirit or Great Creator. The Great Creator was known by many names in different regions such as Nargacork, Wandjina, and Byamee. The Great Creator watched and helped the various groups of the indigenous people and many a time sent helper spirits to guide them in activities such as trapping fish and lighting fires.

A separate story, one that many Indigenous groups had in common was about the Rainbow Serpent who upon arrival on the land, began to slide from one place to the next resulting in valleys, rivers, mountains and deep gorges resembling its shape. It’s still widely believed that the Serpent still resides on earth in a secret sacred location and the rainbows we see are a reflection of the creature.

Most of the Dreaming legends, especially those that dwell on large animals, volcanoes and great floods were based on reality. Archaeological proof reveals that animal and plant life changed in Australia during the Aboriginal habitation. This proves the accomplishment of the rituals and ceremonies in passing down tales from one generation to the next.



First Contact

The Torres Strait Islander Peoples and Aboriginals resided in Australia for centuries without ever seeing other people. However, it is believed that with increased trading as a result of the development of sailing ships, the indigenous population perhaps had some contact with people from foreign countries.

Indonesia’s proximity to Australia meant that travelling between the two nations was possible. It’s also believed that natives of Indonesia would visit Australia annually and trade with the Aboriginals as well as search for new foods. The first contact between the Indigenous people of Australia and other people took place in northern Australia in sections of the Kimberley region and Arnhem Land. Indonesia drew keen interest from European traders and mostly the Dutch sailors in the 17th and 18th Centuries who were the first Europeans to sight Australia.

Willem Jansz is believed to have sighted the western and northern coast of Australia. The navigators made no attempt to settle on the land, thus didn’t bother the Indigenous people who lived there. Similarly, an English sailor, William Dampier, discovered the west coast of Australia and he too neither settled nor landed on the land. History has it that both crews faced antagonism and opposition from the Torres Strait Island Peoples and Aboriginals they encountered. It was to be the onset of conflicts between Australia’s Indigenous people and the Europeans.

Both fleets utilised the voyage to map the coastal region, which they named the New Holland which is modern day Western Australia.


The First Landing of the Europeans

The arrival of the Europeans in Australia lead by Cpt. James Cook signalled the beginning of a wave of change that swept across the entire continent. The lives of the Australian Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders would change forever. Their land was grabbed by the white settlers, they were also denied basic rights, and frontier conflicts arose in a once peaceful nation. The first ever reported revolt happened when Cpt. Cook and his entourage landed. It’s told that two Aboriginal people attempted to fight the intruders to no avail. This signalled the commencement of the struggle for the rights of the Aboriginal people that has been ongoing to this very day.     

Besides the occasional European sailor or Indonesian trader, the vast majority of the Australian Aboriginal population had never laid eyes on other humans for thousands of years. In the late 18th Century, this changed as Europeans began to look into and occupied Australia.

In 1770, Cpt. James Cook, a British soldier, landed his ship – the Endeavour – at Botany Bay; New South Wales where he encountered two indigenous persons who made a futile attempt to stop Cook and company from coming ashore. Cook and his crew overpowered the two. Cook raised the British flag as a sign of taking possession of the land – Australia – on behalf of the King of England. The crew made further explorations along the coast before returning to Britain with news of the discovery and encounters.

This initial voyage marked the commencement of significant changes to Australia’s landscape and for the locals who resided there. The British aimed to settle on the new land in New South Wales, to enable them to fix their prisoners’ burden since they had insufficient prisons back home.


First Colonial Encounters and Frontier Conflict

The first contact between the Australian Aboriginals with British colonisers took place in1788 which quickly escalated into borderline fighting that lasted for more than 140 years and cultural differences that continue to split modern day Australia.

These divides began when Governor Arthur Phillip declared sovereignty on 26th January 1788. It is understood that Lieutenant James Cook was under ‘Secret Instructions’ and had been sent on each of his three travels to the South Pacific between 1768 and 1779 by the British Admiralty. The Secret Instructions in the Letterbook directed the Lieutenant to ‘take possession of the Convenient Situation Australia with the Consent of the Natives in the Name of the King of the Great Britain.’

James Cook had recorded indications that the coast was occupied during the journey north and he noted there was plenty of fires on the mainland and islands, denoting they were inhabited. In spite of Cook’s surveillance and the British Admiralty orders, Governor Arthur Phillip declared sovereignty and possession of the land through the legal notion of terra nullius – land belonging to nobody – over the locality that Cpt. James Cook had named New South Wales.


Traditional Lifestyle and Disease

The Aborigines led extremely healthy lifestyles and their diet comprised of a wide array of vegetables and fruits they gathered from the ground. They ate fish and animal meat to balance their way of life. Before the arrival of the Europeans settlers, the locals hardly suffered from diseases. Some of the minor ailments they suffered from were environmental related such as; fire burns, skin irritations, snake bites, physical injuries as a result of walking on the rugged terrain and the quality of nourishment. Such ailments were treated via traditional ways that included the use of indigenous medicinal plants.

Eye irritations affected the indigenous people the most as a result of the landscape and lifestyle which exposed them to glare and lots of dust.

The robust health among the Aborigines worked against them upon the arrival of Europeans. The locals lacked natural resistance to the diseases brought by the settling of Europeans.

Among the most devastating effects of British colonisation was the introduction of diseases such as; whooping cough, pneumonia, tuberculosis, venereal diseases, influenza, typhoid, and measles. Many Eora people who resided on the foreshores of the Sydney Habour succumbed to smallpox in the formative years of colonisation, even though the genesis of the disease is a source of dispute among historians.



In addition to the devastating impacts of disease, the Australia’s First Nations Peoples suffered from malnutrition as consequence of the burgeoning European settlement. The local population began falling into two categories: those who aimed to retain their traditional lifestyle and those who started working for the Europeans.

The Europeans built new industries that required personnel. Government run ventures and livestock farms resulted in the creation of positions where the locals used to work for food. Sadly, this food was inadequate compared to the more traditional diets. Tea, sugar, periodic meat and flour were payment for a day’s work. The rations were insufficient, and some supplemented with the food they obtained from the land. For some, it was all they had.

For those who depended on the land, faced problems as a result of developments brought about by the white settlers because much of the land was destroyed and food supply was cut short. Loss of land meant the Aborigines were unable to hunt, gather food as they had always done. Plants were destroyed, large animals fled on seeing people and waterways were dirtied. All these combined reduced the amount of food the locals could obtain, leading to malnutrition and starvation in some areas.

The Aborigines that dwelt near the coast could access greater amounts of fish and food which allowed them to retain their traditional diet long after the arrival of the white settlers.

Many lost family and friends as a result of diseases and malnutrition. The strong kinship system, their will to live and links to their ancestors suffered a great deal as well. Most of the traditions were discarded as a result, and birth rates plummeted as well.


Pemulway and Yagan Resistance (1790 – 1810)

Phillip’s tolerance for the local people didn’t last long. The warrior Pemulwuy from the Bidjigal nation, situated in today’s western Sydney, is said to have killed a borderline man in 1790 as retribution for murdering the Bidjigal people. Such an act would have been punishable in the pre-contact tribal society. Governor Phillip hit back by ordering his personnel to execute ten indigenous people and the capture of two to halt further retributions.

Fifty servicemen and two surgeons were sent for the expedition; however, they failed to catch anyone. The Bidjigal and Eora people, spearheaded by Pemulway, undertook a major crusade of resistance against the colonisers in a succession of guerilla attacks that lasted from 1790 to 1810.

In 1797 Pemulway and his men were engaged in a fierce battle close to the town of Parramatta, and he ended up being severely wounded. Pemulway had his legs cast in irons and was hospitalised. A month later he escaped making people believe firearms were incapable of killing him.

The Governor grew increasingly frustrated by Pemulway, and he promised to pardon any prisoner who would bring him the Warriors head. In 1802, Pemulway was killed. He was decapitated and had his head sent to England for research purposes since a lot had been said about Indigenous Australians, but none had ever been seen. Despite all this, the Governor had deep respect for Pemulway for his acts of bravery, and he referred to him as ‘Altho’ – a pest to the colony but one who was an independent, daring and active leader of his tribe.



Yagan hailed from the Nyungar tribe located in the south-western part of Western Australia. He’s described a lanky man, well over 1.8 metres, and was admired and feared at the same time by the colonial masters. In the beginning, the Nyungar tribe co-existed in harmony with the settlers who had built a colony at Swan River in 1829. Inevitably, disputes arose over resources and land. The settlers interpreted the Nyungar’s tradition of burning land as an act of hostility. In 1831 a tribe member was gunned down while picking potatoes from a settler’s garden. The British settler saw this as larceny while the Nyungar felt he was justified to pick the vegetables since he viewed it as land resources which he was entitled to take. Yagan vowed to revenge, the killing, and he did. After numerous battles with the settlers, a bounty was put on his head.

When he was captured, one Robert Lyon fought to spare his life. Lyon admired Yagan’s bravery and wanted him to study. Yagan was then exiled to a rocky island but managed to flee after 6-weeks. This greatly angered the colonists, and as retribution, Yagan’s brother and father were killed, and the bounty on his head was increased. He managed to evade capture and fight for his tribesmen. Sometime in July of 1833, he met two shepherds who he asked for flour. With his back turned, one of the shepherds, William Keats, shot him dead. Keats was rewarded for this act of treachery.

In 1835, upon beheading, Yagan’s head was taken to England. His hair was combed with red and black cockatoo feathers were smartly tied on his head as ornamentation. The head was put on display in Liverpool until 1964, roughly 170 years after being taken to England, it was returned home for a proper burial.


Early 19th Century

The onset of the 19th century saw the denial of rights to the Aboriginals reach a new level. Acts of depopulation of the Aboriginal people via mass killings became rampant in spite of laws being enacted to encourage the settlers to live in harmony with the locals. The denial of right to life and justice was exhibited best during the state of Emergency in the 1820’s and the Myall Creek killings and the ensuing trials.

The Aboriginal had more land taken away from them as well as environmental degradation with the approval of the British administration.     


Calamity in Van Diemen’s Territory (The early 1800’s)

By 1816 Indigenous opposition around Sydney was quelled by Governor Macquarie. British settlements had been established beyond Sydney. In 1803 and 1804, the Port Dalrymple – later renamed Launceston – and Hobart town was built on Van Diemen’s territory which was later to become a separate protectorate in 1825.

There’s no valid evidence regarding the Aboriginal population in Tasmania before colonisation. The popular estimates say between 4,000 to 7,000 locals. However, by 1832, only 203 had survived, and their numbers dwindled further after the renaming of Van Diemen’s Land to Tasmania.

Some historians reckon what happened there as genocide. It was so severe was the obliteration of Tasmania tribes that most of the present-day Aboriginal Tasmanians are descendants of Indigenous women who had been kidnapped or enslaved by the settlers. The question of how an entire population was almost annihilated in a short span remains a mystery.

Scores of Indigenous Tasmanians were murdered in 1803 when they sought to stop the service men and felons constructing huts close to the present day Hobart. The next couple of years hordes of prisoners attacked Aboriginal camps kidnapping women and killing their men. Scores of abductions and killings were undertaken by lawless whalers, sealers, and kangaroo hunters. Diseases or European origin took their toll.

The white settlers slaughtered the indigenous animals which were the primary source of food for the locals. There were accounts of raids on settlers’ huts and shepherd’s being speared. The colonists shot any indigenous people that went close to their dwellings.


State of Emergency (the 1820’s)

The official government code was to treat the Indigenous Tasmanians with camaraderie but, by 1820’s eastern Australia was at war. In 1828 all Aboriginal persons were ordered to vacate the settled districts by Governor Arthur. In 1830, over two thousand servicemen, settlers, and felons were formed into lines with an aim to seize all the Aborigines in the war zone or walk them through the attenuated strip of land which forms Eaglehawk Neck and straight into the Tasman Peninsula far away from the settlers. Notwithstanding, the size of the undertaking, only two indigenous persons were apprehended.


The Scramble for Port Phillip (1835)

The year 1835 isn’t celebrated, commemorated or mentioned in Australian history despite being a decisive moment in the colonial masters’ occupancy of Australia. For a long time, Tasmanian wool growers contemplated expanding their flocks they looked to the Port Phillip District, present-day Victoria. The land seemed available open and there for the taking.

Business persons aiming to gain in the wool industry coupled with the approval of the British government began a scramble for land, unprecedented in history. A frantic race to occupy the grasslands of Victoria ensued, with the Europeans moving stock and supplies at an incredible speed. By 1838, the sheep population had risen to 300,000 a number that increased to more than a million in 1841 and by 1851, had reached five million. Driven by profit, these settlers had no regard for the Indigenous people of Port Phillip.

This occupation pattern was emulated across Australia. As routes were made inland, the squatters seized more of the Aboriginal land. Native animals were killed, and deforestation became rampant to increase grazing land. The source of food for the Aborigines was destroyed. The majority of Europeans assumed ownership of the land and even forbade the original owners to utilise the ground for ceremonies, gathering or hunting.


Myall Creek Mass Killings (1838)

The Myall Creek mass killings were peculiar in that it marked the first and perhaps the last time the white settlers suffered punishment for killing Aborigines under the British rule. This unwarranted and calculated act is perhaps the most embarrassing example injustices committed against the Aboriginals during the borderline conflict. It’s also among the best recorded.

In 1838 over 30 children, women and old men of the Wirrayaraay tribe lived close to the Henry Dangar Myall Creek Station in northern NSW. They lived in harmony with the whites. One day the young men of the tribe were away a station owner cut bark. William Hobbs, the station head had taken cattle to greener pastures. Two assigned felons, James Kilmeister and George Anderson, were the only whites left at the station. On that day, the 9th June, eleven armed herdsmen comprised of assigned felons or ex-felons rode up. The cattlemen claimed to be on the hunt for Aboriginals to punish them for scaring their livestock. With Kilmeister’s help, they chained the defenceless Wirrayaraay and killed them. Anderson didn’t take part in the killings; instead, he hid one young boy.


Myall Creek Trials

Upon the killers being brought to trial, a public outrage ensued for the government aiming to convict white settlers for murdering the Aboriginals. During the first proceedings, the accused were backed by many wealthy squatters, a magistrate included and were found innocent of any wrongdoing.

Later seven men were convicted of killing an Aboriginal child after remains were found at the murder scene. They faced the hangman’s noose in December 1838.


Frontier Violence: Strife at Port Phillip (1840)

One followed by the other, the Aborigine groups across the continent engaged the settlers to save their land. Inevitably, by the close of the 19th century, the British settlers controlled a significant stake of the valuable land. In many regions, this was attained by bloodshed.

Melbourne was a rather peaceful area, but that changed in 1840 when a group of 300 Aboriginals was trapped by police and soldiers in their campsite south of Yarra. The locals were indicted of several thefts. Windberry, one of the headmen, was gunned down. The rest were apprehended, and ultimately thirty were locked up for a month pending trial, while ten were found culpable.


The 20th Century

The onset of the 20th century saw the rise of a hero-bandit called Jimmy Governor. His story is an illustration of the sort of abuse the Aboriginal had to endure from the white settlers. Jimmy’s case is an example of the continuation of double standards the British had instilled in society. Jimmy Governor was rightfully punished for his murderous acts, unlike the culprits of the Myall Creek massacre that were acquitted of any wrong doing as a result of a flawed justice system.

The British Administration enacted laws to deny the aboriginals voting rights and recognition in the census. This act further revealed the disdain the colonisers had for the indigenous people. A further violation of the Aboriginal’s rights was during World War I and the Boer war.  

In a rare act of courtesy, the administration recognised the efforts of Aboriginal achievers.


Jimmy Governor runs Amok (1900)

A character is a strong motivator and complicated thing. The imaging and writings about Jimmy Governor bear it all, about a mass killer who taunted law enforcers trying to capture him in the just federated Australia.

It all began when Governor was engaged by the Mawbey family to construct a fence around their property. Governor subcontracted his friends to lend him a hand. A feud ensued when the property owner Mr. Mawbey deemed Governor’s work to be substandard. Governor had received part of his payment but Mr. Mawbey declined to pay the last instalment until the work met his expectations.

On the 20th of July 1900, Governor and his friend named Jacky Underwood attacked Mrs. Mawbey and her sister Elsie Clarke with nulla nullas and tomahawks. Helen Kerz and Mrs. Grace Mawbey were killed together with her her children Hilda (11), Percival (14), and Grace (16). Clarke was seriously wounded. A young boy named Bert managed to flee to his father’s camp and raised the alarm.

Underwood was arrested by the authorities, however, Jimmy remained a free man who teamed up with his brother Joe Governor and they went on a 14-week, 3219 km murder campaign. A queer feature of the rampage was that not a single able-bodied person was targeted. Rather, the two brothers targeted infants, children, old men, pregnant women, elderly women, middle-aged women and teenage girls.

At various times, Governor revealed the different motivations for the gruesome acts. In an interview in the Maitland in October 1900, Governor claimed he had been incited into the killings. He claimed the Mawbeys deserved what he did to them as a result of mocking his union to a white woman. In a statement during his trial, the importance of race had grown substantially. He claimed to have lost his cool when dealing with the racial taunts. Jimmy added that his wife had been a subjected to a racial slur for marrying a black man. She had also been subjected to questions regarding their sex life and her husband’s mixed race background. On confronting Mrs. Mawbey and Clarke about the issue, they openly expressed their disgust about his interracial marriage and he ended up losing his mind. In Governor’s own words:

“I am going to see Mrs. Mawbey about those words she has been saying, I’ll make her mind what she is talking about. I’ll take her to Court if she does not mind herself.” I went up to the house. I said, “Are you in, Mrs. Mawbey? Did you tell, my missus that any white woman who married a blackfellow ought to be shot? Did you ask my wife about our private busi- ness ? Did you ask her what sort of nature did I have-black or white? With that Mrs. Mawbey and Miss Kerz turned round and laughed at me with a sneering laugh, and before I got the words out of my mouth that I said in court I struck Mrs. Mawbey on the mouth with this nullah-nullah. Miss Kerz said, “Pooh, you black rubbish, you want shooting for marrying a white woman.” With that I hit her with my hand on the jaw, and I knocked her down. Then I got out of temper and got hammering them, and lost control of myself. I do not remember anything after that.”

Jimmy Governor was found guilty of his acts and was hanged. To some Jimmy is regarded as a hero to date among a section of the Aboriginal people.


Exclusion of Aborigines (1901)

On 1st January 1901, the country’s constitution came into effect thereby establishing the Commonwealth of Australia. The law stated that Aborigines wouldn’t be counted in the population census. Also, the Commonwealth would enact laws for all races except for the Aboriginal people. This left the power over Indigenous affairs in the hands of the states.

The Aborigines were excluded from white collar employment, maternity allowance, enrolling in the disciplined forces, pensions and voting.


The Boer War (1903)

During the Boer conflict, fifty Aboriginal trackers were sent into South Africa to help locate the Boer troopers. When the Australian forces withdrew later that year, it’s believed the trackers were left behind.

Soon after its possession by the British throughout the Napoleonic wars, the southern end of Africa had been partitioned between the British protectorates and sovereign governments of Dutch-Afrikaner settlers also known as Boers. Between 1899 and 1902, 50 Aboriginal trackers were convened by the colonists in South Africa to take part in the Boer war.

Lord Kitchener requested for aid to track guerilla troops in the South Africa wilderness in the Boer war. After lending a helping hand to about 15,000 Australian soldiers, at the end of the war, Aboriginal trackers apparently from North Queensland, were deserted by their administration.

It’s unknown whether they ever made it home.


Fanny Cochrane Smith (1903)

A Tasmanian-born Aborigine woman Fanny Cochrane Smith was recorded singing. Fanny Cochrane born in Wybaleena on the Flinders Island in 1834 soon after her parents including 120 indigenous Tasmanians had been settled there.

Fanny Smith is a significant person in Tasmania’s history. Fanny was the first Aboriginal Australian to be recorded. Her recordings were also the first and last Tasmanian language records which are regarded as an indispensable connection to the indigenous culture.

As of 1876, Fanny was the last surviving Tasmanian indigenous person after the death of Truganini. The Tasmanian government acknowledged her claim and granted her 300 acres of land and a lifetime allowance of £50.

Fanny never abandoned traditional practices of making baskets, hunting, and gathering, conducting Aboriginal practices as well as diving for shellfish.


The Cherbourg Community (1904)

The Queensland administration established Cherbourg, an Indigenous community, roughly thirty kilometres from Gympie. The Torres Strait Islanders became subject to the Queensland Aboriginal Protection Act.

The settlement was named Barambah. In 1932, Barambah was altered to Cherbourg because an adjacent property under the name Barambah Station led to confusions in mail delivery. Situated 375 kilometres north-west of Brisbane, Cherbourg is 3,130 hectares and borders Gubbi Gubbi area to the east and the Wakka tribal frontier.


Western Australia Aborigines Act (1905)

The Western Australia Aborigines Act was enacted, establishing the Chief Protector as the lawful guardian of all Aboriginal and mixed race children less than 16 years of age. Reserves were set up, and a local patron was chosen, and laws governing Aboriginal employment were laid down.

In 1908, the Invalid and Old Age Pensioner Act which allowed for social security for some indigenous people came into force.


Establishment of Aboriginal Schools (1909)

The New South Wales Aborigines Protection Act was passed following a crisis in public schools. Indigenous schools were started in NSW after the removal of Aboriginal students from public schools following pleas from the settlers. In NSW Aboriginal schools increased at a steady rate; they grew from 22 in 1910 to 35 in 1920 and reached 40 by 1940.

Syllabuses emphasised manual activities while the instructor is often untrained.

The Act outlawed mixed-race people to reside in reserves. George Green became the first Indigenous persons to join First Grade Rugby representing the Eastern Suburbs.


Word War 1 (1914)

At the onset of World War 1, roughly 500 indigenous children were taken away from their families, including those who had their fathers serving in the war.

In infringement to the 1909 Defence Act which forbade person not of ‘substantial European’ descent from serving. The Aboriginal troops were amidst Australian soldiers in Gallipoli.

Under the colonisation of the British, Australia was proclaimed terra nullius; meaning that there didn’t exist binding agreements with indigenous Australians, thus their rights weren’t recognised.

The 1903 Defence Act stipulated that all males aged 12 to 25 years qualified for military training.

This marked the commencement of the recognition and fight for the rights of the Aboriginal people. Indigenous people in certain regions of Australia were granted voting rights.  


Advocacy for Equality (1938)

On 26th January, a century and a half after the European invasion the Aboriginal Progressive Association announced a Day of Mourning. Sydney played host to an Indigenous conference which was the first of numerous Aboriginal rallies against protectionist laws, injustice, land dispossession and inequality.

A monthly paper, Australian Abo Call, was published in Sydney, calling for equal opportunity and treatment for the Aboriginal people.


Lens Waters (1942)

Lens Waters is accepted into the Royal Australian Air Force, becoming the first Indigenous person to become a military pilot. Waters was also the sole indigenous pilot fighter to serve throughout World War II. Waters left the army in 1946 and passed on in 1993 at the age of 69. Streets in Sydney and ACT have been named in his honour.


The Common Wealth Electoral Act (1962)

The Common Wealth Electoral Act was revised to permit all Aborigines in Northern Territory, Western Australia, and Queensland the right to vote. The Aborigines were not forced to register, however, once they did, voting was mandatory like any other Australians.

In New South Wales, the law prohibiting Aboriginal access to alcohol was lifted.


The Integration Policy (1965)

In 1965, the Integration Policy was introduced, presumably to give the Aborigines more power over their society and lives.

The last Aborigine group – the Pintubi – who lived independently in the desert, were relocated to Yuendumu and Papunya roughly 300 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs.

The Aboriginal and Torres Islanders’ Affairs Act authorised in Queensland gave the Director of Aboriginal Affairs substantial authority over his peers. For instance, an indigenous person could be locked up for a year for acting in a threatening, offensive, insolent, disorderly, insulting, indecent manner or attempting to flee from the reserve.


The Commonwealth Referendum (1967)

Over 90% vote to allow the Commonwealth to formulate laws for all the indigenous people and enable them to be considered during the census. Hopes were raised that discrimination would end. All states except for Queensland ditched laws that discriminated against the indigenous people. 1971 saw the Aboriginal people included in the census.

The Gurindji people make a plea to the Governor General to excise 1,295 km2 of their land from the Wave Hill pastoral tenancy.


Aboriginal Flag (1971)

The Aboriginal flag designed by Harold Thomas from the Luritja people in Adelaide.

Aboriginal tennis player Evonne Cawley received the Australian of the Year Gong.

The first version of the Aboriginal flag was modelled by the creators of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.

It was comprised of a black top half – a representation of the Aboriginal people – and a lower ochre-brown half which represented the land. Both halves were joined by a white spear which represented Aboriginal resistance and their political endeavours. The ‘warrior spirit’ of the Aborigines.

The flag also comprised of four white crescents which represented Aborigine unity over land rights, the struggle for rights in all the four corners of the country or the coming together of the indigenous people in a unified council.

Another version as to the flag’s origin is thought to have entered into a national tournament. The barbed spear represented European takeover of Australia. The surrounding crescent shapes depicted Aborigine elders deliberating on the invasion.

Gary Foley, an activist for the Aboriginal people, took the indigenous flag to Australia’s east coast where it was publicised and finally acclaimed as the bona fide First Nations Peoples flag.

The flag was displayed for the first time on 12th July 1971 at the National Aborigines Day in Adelaide. The flag was also on display as the Tent Embassy in Canberra the following year.

In 1995, the Australian administration declared the First Nations Peoples flag as a solemn ‘Flag of Australia’ under the Flags Act. Harold Thomas was identified as the creator of the artistic effort under the 1968 Copyright Act.

Some Australians are rethinking the Australian flag. They suggest having it fused with the Aboriginal flag.


Present Aboriginal Flag 1971

Indigenous elder Harold Thomas, who was a Luritja, designed the Aborigine flag. It was meant to act as a unifying symbol for the indigenous people throughout the period of land rights campaign.

Yellow: Represented the giver of life, that is, the sun.

Red: Represented red ochre which was used in rituals and the red earth.

Black: Represented the Aborigine people.


The Late 20th Century

Self-Management Rule 1972

Aboriginal Heritage Protection Act is enacted in Western Australia. The Labor government scraps the White Australia law for a system of self-management. This alteration allows the right to linguistic and cultural management and maintenance of natural resources on indigenous land.

On Jan 25th, the government declared a new law – that indigenous people would have a choice of the extent to which they identified with the larger society and more freedom in running their affairs. Freehold land rights were rebuffed, in favor of 50-year, all-purpose leases to indigenous peoples for economic and social uses. The government proclaimed intent to permit the Yirrkala tribe to gain royalties from the mining of bauxite in their country, allow a flimsy form of Aborigine leasehold over in the Northern Territory as well as obtain a pastoral lease in areas such as Daguragu for Aboriginal development.


The Native Title Act 1994

On 1st January the Native Tribunal was set up to hear land claims. The Indigenous Land Fund was established in response by the government to the Mabo decision which acknowledged the land rights of the Meriam people. The Meriam people were the first holders of the Murray Islands.

The Native Title Act established the legal framework for the running of Native Title Service Providers and Native Title Representative Bodies. These organisations were acknowledged and funded by the Australian administration to carry out some functions as per the Native Title Act, and they were:

  • Manage native titles
  • Lend a hand in resolution of native title issues
  • Agreement making
  • Support use of native titles to attain social, economic and cultural outcomes
  • Governing native titles


Mandatory Sentencing (1999)

The policy of mandatory sentencing in the Northern Territory and Western Australia is rebuked by many. The masses call for the laws to be scrapped because they impacted more on Aboriginal children than non-indigenous children.

The Federal Parliament expresses regret over the compulsory removal of indigenous children from their families.

A 16-year-old boy hailing from the Yulparija people started an art movement after painting stories of his ancestors. He became among the leading contemporary artists in modern day Australia.


Sydney 2000 Olympics

Cathy Freeman won gold in the 400m women’s race. The opening and closing celebrations observed Aboriginal history and culture. Also, canny political comments regarding current Aboriginal issues were aired.


Recent History

In the modern era, the fruits of the struggle for self rule began to bear fruits as Aboriginal languages began to be recognized and their people began to vying for elected positions.

Recognition of Aboriginal Languages (2016)

The indigenous languages become new HSC subject, seven years after the New South Wales Aboriginal Languages Law was enacted.

On May 18th, Australia’s lengthiest protracted land claim was settled after 37 long years. The claimed territory extends the Cox Peninsula west of Darwin Habour including 65,000 hectares for use by the Belyuen and Larrakia people. The ruling came after two lengthy hearings, two High Court appeals, and three Federal Court Reviews.

The highest number of Aboriginal candidates vying for federal elections, 13, is recorded. They were; Ken Wyatt (Hasluck, WA), Shea Taylor (Senate, QLD), Tammy Solonec, Kado Muir (Swan, WA), Malarndirri McCarthy (NT), Carol Martin Joanna Lindgren, Kerryanne Liddle (Senate, SA), Sharlene Leroy-Dyer (Senate, NSW), Jacqui Lambie (TAS), Pat Dodson, Ken Canning (Sydney, NSW) and Linda Burney (electorate: Barton, NSW).

Linda won the Federal seat of Barton thereby becoming the first woman Aboriginal Member of Parliament in the country’s history.


Ministerial Appointment (2017)

On Jan 18th Ken Wyatt was nominated Minister for Aged Care and Indigenous Health, becoming the first ever Aboriginal federal minister. Also, Mr. Wyatt became the first person of Aboriginal descent to head a significant portfolio after being voted into the House of Representatives and the front bench.

A Bunuba lady. June Oscar commences her five-year term and is the first female Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner serving in the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Hip Hop duo A.B Original comprised of a Ngarrindjeri man Trials and Yorta Yorta man Briggs, bag the Australian Music Prize with their album; Reclaim Australia. The award is the biggest for an album.



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Korff, J. (2017). Aboriginal history timeline (1900 – 1969). [online] Creative Spirits. Available at: [Accessed 5 Jul. 2017]. 

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wiliam, S. (2017). First contact with Europeans, Contact with Europeans: The Effects, Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders, SOSE Year 6, WA | Online Education Home Schooling Skwirk Australia. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Jul. 2017].


wiliam, S. (2017). First contact with Europeans, Contact with Europeans: The Effects, Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders, SOSE Year 6, WA | Online Education Home Schooling Skwirk Australia. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Jul. 2017].