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Indigenous timeline 1970 - present: Australian Museum

Indigenous Australia Timeline - 1970 to present

A timeline of significant events relating to Indigenous Australians from 1970 until the present day.


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 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The Northern Territory Ordinance is repealed.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 because 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. Aboriginal people 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 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 infection 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. It also rules 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 launch of the International Year of 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 bauxite 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.


13 February. In Parliament House, Canberra, the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd apologises to the Stolen Generations for their "profound grief, suffering and loss" due to the separation from their families. The speech is greeted by a standing ovation by all parliamentary members and representatives of the Stolen Generations.

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

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