Timeline of this land  

38000 BC
The first settlers arrived via Papua New Guinea

First European sightings of Australia were made by Dutchman Willem Janszoon.

Louis Vaez de Torres sailed through the Torres Strait.

First journey to Australia by the Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman.

Captain Cook is issued with orders from the British Empire that if he discovers the great southern land he is "with the consent of the natives take possession of convenient situations in the name of the King... or if you find the land uninhabited, take possession for His Majesty King George III ".

April 29 Captain James Cook in the Endeavour enters Botany Bay. After an encounter with local people in Botany Bay Cook writes "all they seemed to want was us to be gone".

The First Fleet arrives and builds a settlement at Port Jackson in NSW.

There was also the introduction of European diseases that resulted in the deaths of many of the indigenous population - in particular, two plagues of small-pox (in 1792 and 1822) swept through the Aboriginal populations with fatal consequences – particularly in Tasmania.

The great age of exploration: coastal surveys (Bass, Flinders), interior (Sturt, Eyre, Leichhardt, Burke and Willis, McDougall Stuart, Forrest).

Mathew Flinders completes the first voyage around Australia in the 'Investigator'.

Barrier of the Blue Mountains Crossed.

Tasmania seceded from New South Wales.

Western Australia formed.

John Batman attempts to make a treaty with Aboriginal people for Port Phillip Bay (near present day Melbourne) by buying 243,000 hectares with 20 pairs of blankets, 30 tomahawks, various other articles and a yearly tribute. Governor Bourke does not recognise the treaty. This is the only time colonists attempt to sign a treaty for land with Aboriginal owners.

South Australia formed.

A select committee of the British House of Commons says that Aborigines have a “plain right and sacred right” to their land. The committee reports genocide is happening in the colonies.

Convict transportation ended.

Gold rushes in Ballarat and Bendigo.

Victoria seceded from New South Wales.

Victoria achieved government.
New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania achieved government.

Queensland formed from New South Wales and achieved government.

Western Australia achieved government.

Depression gave rise to the Australian Labour Party.

In the late 1890s, Aboriginal people were used as a cheap labour pool, being employed as station hands or crewmen for fishing and pearling boats. Child labour, sexual exploitation of Aboriginal women by non-Aboriginal men, disease, drunkenness and drug addiction led to the Queensland Government policy and practice of forced relocation of the majority of Aboriginal groups and families from their traditional lands onto foreign lands where government reserves and or church run missions were established. In addition, many Aboriginal family groups were split up and sent to different reserves. Fantome Island off Palm Island is infamous for being a place of punishment where Aboriginal people who dared to defy government authority were sent.

There was a period of isolation and protection as the government realised that Aboriginal people were not going to die out as a race and decided that they needed to be both isolated and protected from white society. This realisation resulted in legislations that was supposedly to protect and segregate Aboriginals - these involved restrictions on where they could live and work and also in families being broken up.

The Commonwealth of Australia was created - this was a federation of the States of New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia. Aboriginals were not classified as 'Australians'.

Site for capital at Canberra acquired.

World War I - Anzac troops in Europe. Australia experiences her first major losses in a war during in 1915 on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey.

The last mass-killing of Aborigines after a European-Australian was reported killed by an Aborigine - local policemen collected together a gang of people to kill the local tribe as revenge.

The Aborigines Progressive Association declares a Day of Mourning on Australia Day and holds the first Aborigines Conference in Sydney. The Conference resolves to appeal to the nation to give Indigenous Australians full citizenship rights.

Numerous government reserves were established under the Aboriginals Protection and the majority of Aboriginal people became wards of the State and had to have work permits to work outside the reserves. Their income was managed by the State. Mixing of the races was controlled and Aboriginal women or men who wished to marry required the permission of the Chief Protector. The Aboriginals Preservation and Protection Act replaced the former Act in 1939, the Chief Protector becoming the Director of the Department of Native Affairs.

World War II - Anzac troops in Greece, Crete, and N Africa (El Alamein) and the Pacific.

The Japanese bomb Darwin.

Liberal party founded by Robert Menzies.

After World War II, assimilation became the governments aim with all rights being taken away from the Aboriginals as they attempted to Europeanise them. The Commonwealth Citizenship and Nationality Act for the first time gives the category of "Australian Citizenship" to all Australians, including Aborigines - however, at state level Aborigines still suffered legal discrimination.

Two million new immigrants arrive - the majority from continental Europe.

Korean War - Australian troops are part of the United Nations forces.

The Commonwealth Electoral Act is amended to give the vote to all Aboriginal people. However, it wasn't until 1972 that the indigenous people were given back limited rights to their own land.

Vietnam War - Commonwealth troops in alliance with US forces.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Act 1965 replaced the Aborigines Preservation and Protection Act 1939 and the Department of Aboriginal and Islander Affairs (DAIA) was established. It was intended to work itself out of a job with ‘reserves’ being temporary training camps which would serve as springboards for Aboriginal people to be assimilated into the wider community.

Vincent Lingiari leads a walk-off from the cattle station Wave Hill in the Northern Territory, protesting inadequate wages and poor conditions. The protesters set up camp at nearby Wattie Creek and demand the return of some of their traditional lands, beginning a seven-year fight by the Gurindji to obtain title to their land. The protest eventually leads to the Commonwealth Land Rights Act (Northern Territory) in 1976.

After 10 years of campaigning for equality by Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, 91% of Australians voted that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be counted in the national census of the population and that the Commonwealth Government should have the power to legislate for Aboriginal people and therefore Aborigines became citizens and were allowed to vote in state and federal elections.

In the controversial Government land rights case, Justice Blackburn ruled that Australia had been terra nullius before British settlement, and that no concept of native title existed in Australian law.

The first formal recognition that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are actually quite distinct and separate was reflected by the passing of the Queensland Aborigines Act 1971 and Queensland Torres Strait Islanders Act 1971 which replaced earlier legislation. Only minimal changes were made to these Acts in 1974, 1975 and 1979 despite human rights infringements and the passage of the federal Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

The Whitlam Government establishes the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and makes a firm commitment to the policy of self-determination. The new Government also sets up the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee. The 'Aboriginal Embassy' is pitched outside Parliament House in Canberra, demonstrating for land rights.

Japan became Australia's chief trading partner.

Whitlam abolishes 'white Australia' policy.

The Australian Senate unanimously endorses a resolution put up by Senator Neville Bonner acknowledging prior ownership of this country by Aboriginal people and seeking compensation for their dispossession. Federal Parliament passes the Racial Discrimination Act. Prime Minister Whitlam dismissed by the governor general.

The Fraser Government passes the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act and brings the new legislation into operation.

Northern Territory achieved self-government.

The word ‘assimilation’ was dropped in favour of ‘integration’ which was based on a philosophy that it’s O.K. to be ‘different’ and it was a pre-cursor for the acceptance of multiculturalism.

The Aboriginal Treaty Committee is formed and the National Aboriginal Conference calls for a treaty between the Commonwealth Government and Aboriginal people. The Hon. Fred Chaney, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, welcomes the initiative and funds a nationwide consultation process.

Nine members of an extended Pintupi family, still living a semi-nomadic life in the Gibson Desert are found and brought in to communities.

The Community Services (Aborigines) Act 1984 and Community Services (Torres Strait Islanders) Act 1984 were the next legislative change for Aboriginal peoples giving local government status to former reserves which had received deeds of grant in trust in 1982 under the Land Act (Aboriginal and Islander Land Grants) Amendment Act 1982. This Act enabled, for the first time, Aboriginal people to have some title to land and a degree of self-management. It is during the 1970s and 1980s that the philosophy of ‘self management and self determination’ became a political and economic goal for Aboriginal people to pursue.

Pope John Paul II visits Alice Springs and makes a public statement saying “There is a need for a just and proper settlement (with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people) that still lies unachieved in Australia.”

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Gerry Hand presents to the Parliament the statement ‘Foundations for the Future’, aimed at progressing the idea of a contract with Indigenous Australians.

Australian Heads of Churches issue a statement, ‘Towards Reconciliation in Australian Society - Reconciliation and Aboriginal Australians’, arguing for just and proper settlement of differences and the healing of division.

At the Barunga Festival, Prime Minister Bob Hawke is presented with two paintings and text calling for Indigenous rights. This has become known as the Barunga Statement. In his speech Bob Hawke says there will be a treaty within the life of the current Parliament. The statement now hangs in Parliament House in Canberra.

Archie Roach releases Took The Children Away

Minister tables Report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody which inquired into the deaths of 99 Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders in Australian jails. The final recommendation supports the concept of a process of reconciliation, with Commissioner Elliott Johnston commenting that “All political leaders and their parties recognise that reconciliation between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities in Australia must be achieved if community division, discord and injustice to Aboriginal people are to be avoided.”

Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Act is passed in the House of Representatives and the Senate with unanimous support.

High Court hands down its Mabo decision, recognising special relationship that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have with the land. The court decrees that Australia was never terra nullius (empty land). The decision includes the words, the “majority of the Court held that the common law of Australia recognises a form of native title; where those people have maintained their connection with the land; and where the title has not been extinguished by acts of Imperial, Colonial, State, Territory or Commonwealth government.”

The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation holds its first meeting in Canberra.

Prime Minister Paul Keating delivers his famous Redfern address where he acknowledges responsibility for the problems encountered by Indigenous Australians.

The Government creates the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner position as a part of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

This was designated to be the International Year of the World's Indigenous People.

First national ‘Week of Prayer for Reconciliation’ with support from all major religious groups.

Native Title Act passed by Federal Parliament recognising native title and providing a process by which native title rights can be established.

The Australian Football League releases a new code of conduct on racism which receives strong endorsement from the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation.

The Uniting Church National Assembly formally apologises for past wrongs and pledges to work in solidarity with the Aboriginal and Islander Congress.

The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation presents Going Forward: Social Justice for the First Australians to Prime Minister Paul Keating. This document contains 78 recommendations covering a range of issues including access to land, protection of culture and heritage, and the provision of adequate health, housing and other services.

Aboriginal, pastoral and environmental organisations on Cape York sign the ‘Cape York Land Use Heads of Agreement’, showing that organisations representing disparate interests can agree on diverse land uses. The agreement is seen as the first step towards a possible Regional Agreement as defined in the Commonwealth Native Title Act.

The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation launches the first National Reconciliation Week (NRW).

Australian Reconciliation Convention attended by 1,800 participants - this event is an historic landmark in the reconciliation process and stimulates a grassroots people's movement around the country.

The Bringing Them Home Report uncovering in stark detail the suffering of the stolen generations is launched at the National Reconciliation Convention.

Jeff Kennett, representing Victoria's people, apologises to Aboriginals

Over 200,000 people walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge and hundreds of thousands more around the country as part of National Reconciliation Week, demonstrating their support for the reconciliation process.

The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation winds up, presenting a report and list of recommendations.

Reconciliation Australia set up as an independent, not-for-profit organisation to carry the movement forward.

National Reconciliation Planning Workshop, attended by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

Reconciliation Australia launches its Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) program, calling on governments, business, peak bodies, non-government and community organisations to commit to specific, measurable action oriented plans. The RAPs are part of a broader plan of action committed to closing the 17 years life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

27 May: The 40th anniversary of the 1967 referendum honours surviving campaigners and stimulates Australians of today to realise the vision of equality that attracted such a high vote four decades ago.

At a joint press conference Prime Minister John Howard and Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough announce a dramatic intervention into Northern Territory Aboriginal communities in response to the findings of a report about sexual abuse.

6 weeks after the announcement the Northern Territory Emergency Response Act is passed, giving the Government power to acquire Aboriginal land for 5 years and hold back 50% of all welfare payments for necessary items. The long standing permit system, enacted as part of the 1976 Aboriginal Land Rights Act (Northern Territory) is scrapped. The legislation includes exemptions from the Racial Discrimination Act.

13 Feb: Australia’s Prime Minister makes the speech that finally says sorry to the Indigenous people of this land and for all the actions taken by previous governments against these people, in particular, apologising for the stolen generation