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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Writers and Storytellers
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  • Black Australia's Timeline

  • 309

    The BlackWords team maintains this calendar of significant events in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history since the arrival of European culture in Australia.

    The Calendar was first compiled by Dr Anita Heiss in 2007 and has been updated periodically since then.

    Aboriginal people have been living on and caring for the land now known as ‘Australia’ for approximately 60,000 years. For a timeline of ‘ancient Australian history’ we suggest you read the Australian Aboriginal history timeline.

    The material indexed in the BlackWords dataset written by Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people on ‘pre-contact’ includes poetry, prose, essays, oral histories, non-fiction and other works. To access these (which number around 100 individual entries) click here.

    Many of the significant dates post-1788 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the subject of some of the writing or author records listed in BlackWords.

    See what happened in a particular historical period and then check out the content in BlackWords. Suggested search subject terms and keywords have been supplied, as have links to individuals with records in the database.

    Please contact us to contribute to, or comment on, the timeline.

    NB: Many of the search prompts within the calendar take you to the search form where you can simply hit search to see the latest information on the subject.

  • Section One : 1788-1970

  • Click on the links below to explore the information in BlackWords relating to the years below.


    Captain Arthur Phillip raises the Union Jack at Sydney Cove, New South Wales. Resistance is immediate and lead by warriors like Pemulwuy.


    The establishment of the 'native institution' at Parramatta, New South Wales, by Governor Macquarie 'to civilise, educate and foster habits of industry and decency in the Aborigines'.


    Conflict with Aboriginal people in the Bathurst, New South Wales, district becomes such a threat to white settlement that martial law is proclaimed. The Battle of Bathurst is lead by Wiradjuri warrior Windradyne.


    Maria Lock (or Locke), an Aboriginal woman, was born at Richmond, on the Hawkesbury River, in 1805. In March 1831 she petitioned Governor Darling for her deceased brother Coley's (Colebee) grant at Blacktown. The land was opposite the Native Institution and was located in the territory of the Boorooberongal clan of the Dharug people. Maria was the daughter of Yarramundi, 'Chief of the Richmond Tribes'. Although there were protests to the land grant, Maria succeeded and was given 40 acres in 1831. In 1833, another 40 acres was granted to her at Liverpool in her husband Robert's name. She received Colebee's 30-acre (12.1 ha) grant in 1843. She died in 1878.


    June: Myall Creek Massacre. It was the first time anyone was tried and hanged for murdering Aboriginal people after white settlers murdered 28 Aboriginal men, women and children near Myall Creek Station in NSW.


    Victorian Central Board appointed to watch over the interests of Aborigines. In 1869 it is replaced by the Victorian Board for the Protection of Aborigines, soon commonly referred to as the Protection Board. The Protection Board (existed nationally) had the power to remove any child from station families to be housed in dormitories. From 1886, the Board is empowered to apprentice Koori children when they reach 13. Children require permission to visit their families on the stations. The Protection Board is replaced by the Welfare Board in 1957 and abolished in 1967.


    Labourers from the Pacific Islands introduced to Queensland.


    One hundred and fifty Aboriginal people are killed resisting arrest in the Kimberleys, Western Australia.

    First overseas cricket tour leaves Sydney, New South Wales, for England. The team is all Aboriginal.


    The Coming of the Light commemorates 1 July 1871 when missionary Reverend Samuel MacFarlane arrives in the Torres Straits. 1 July is celebrated annually by Torres Strait Islander people and signifies the coming of Christianity. Many aspects of Christianity are incorporated into the Islanders' existing religious and spiritual ceremonies. There are many celebrations, gatherings and church services by community across the Torres Strait Islands. The re-enactment of the missionaries landing takes place on (Erub) Darnley Island.


    Truganini, the daughter of Mangerner, Chief of the Recherche Bay people in Tasmania, dies.


    Protector of Aborigines is appointed in New South Wales.


    New South Wales' Aborigines Protection Board established. In 1915, the Board is empowered to remove and apprentice Koori children without a court hearing. This power is repealed in 1940. The board is renamed the Aborigines Welfare Board, and later abolished in 1969.


    The phrase 'White Australia' appears in William Lane's Boomerang in Brisbane, Queensland.


    Jandamarra (or Pigeon), an Aboriginal resistance fighter, declares war on white invaders in the West Kimberleys, Western Australia, and prevents settlement for six years.


    Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act (Qld). The Chief Protector can remove Murri people on to and between reserves and hold their children in dormitories.


    1 April: Resistance leader Jandamarra of the Bunuba people is killed in WA.


    Aborigines Act (WA). The Chief Protector is made legal guardian of every Aboriginal and 'half-caste' child under 16.


    Aborigines Protection Act (NSW): is introduced making it illegal for ‘half-castes’ [terminology used at the time] to live on reserves. In 1915 and 1918 amendments to the Act gave the NSW Aborigines Protection Board greater powers to remove children from their families for training as domestic servants. Children removed in the Act are known as the Stolen Generations.


    Aborigines Act (SA) The Chief Protector is made legal guardian of every Aboriginal and 'half-caste' child under 21 with control over the child's place of residence. The Chief Protector is replaced by the Aborigines Protection Boards in 1939. Guardianship power is repealed in 1962.


    New South Wales Aboriginal Protection Board establishes the Kinchela Training Institution for Aboriginal boys.


    The Kinchela training institution is moved to Kempsey. The Board also contributes to the United Aborigines Mission Home at Bomaderry on the New South Wales south coast where the younger children and babies are placed.

    The Australian Aborigines Progressive Association is formed in New South Wales.


    Aboriginal people are banned from central Perth, Western Australia, until 1948.

    John Thomas Patten is President of the Aborigines' Progressive Association (APA)


    Coniston massacre, Northern Territory. After a white dingo trapper is killed, more than sixty Aboriginal men, women and children are shot and killed in reprisals over a period of months.


    First Commonwealth-State conference on 'native welfare' adopts assimilation as the national policy.


    On 26 January, an Australian Aboriginal Day of Mourning conference is held in Sydney, New South Wales. It is the first of many Aboriginal protest demonstrations against inequality and injustice. In the 'celebration' of New South Wales, Aboriginal people from Western New South Wales are trucked to Sydney and threatened with starvation unless they play their appointed role in the re-enactment of the events of 26 January, 1788.

    New South Wales Government changes Aboriginal policy from protection to assimilation.


    World War II: Aboriginal volunteers are rejected.

    Protest by Aboriginal people at Cummeroogunga, New South Wales, who walked off their reserve over malnutrition and ill treatment.


    Exemption certificates introduced as a means to disconnect Aboriginal people from their identity and community by exempting them from the Act.


    1 May: the Pilbara Aboriginal Stockmen's Strike, Western Australia.

    Search keyword: Pilbara strike


    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is adopted by the United Nations with Australia's support. It recognises the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family, declaring honouring of these rights as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.


    Aboriginal children assimilated into local schools in New South Wales, if all other parents agree.


    Third Commonwealth-State conference on native welfare affirms Aboriginal Assimilation as the aim of native welfare measures: assimilation means that, in the course of time, it is expected that all persons of 'Aboriginal blood' or 'mixed blood' in Australia will live like 'other' (that is, white) Australians do.


    Atomic tests carried out at Emu, South Australia. Further tests at Maralinga in 1956 and 1957. Aborigines describe a black mist and report sight loss and skin rashes. Many die from radiation poisoning. Hundreds of families are forced to leave their homelands because of severe contamination.


    Activists from all mainland States and Territories form the group, the Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement (FCAA), and work tirelessly to make changes to the Constitution leading to the 1967 Referendum.


    In July, a bark petition against mining on the Gove Peninsula, Northern Territory, is drawn up by senior men of the affected clans. On 28 August, what is known as the Yirrkala Bark Petition is presented to the Governor-General. The Federal Parliament fails to recognise Aboriginal political structures and rejects the petition because of insufficient signatures.


    The Federal Government adopts a policy of integration of Aboriginal people. Charles Perkins leads Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal students, including a group from Sydney University, on Freedom Rides through western New South Wales to bring public attention to the appalling living conditions of some Aboriginal peoples, and to raise the issue of segregation in country towns including Walgett, Gulargambone, Kempsey, Bowraville and Moree.

    Australian Labor Party drops the White Australia policy.


    23 August: Aboriginal people awarded equal pay. In the Northern Territory this is deferred for three years on the grounds of hardship for employers.

    Stockmen and women at Wave Hill, Northern Territory, walk off in protest against intolerable working conditions and inadequate wages. Walk-outs – strikes or fights between blacks and whites, as they were sometimes referred to – were recorded as far back as 1938 with the declaration of the Day of Mourning. The 1946 Pilbara Strike became famous as did a strike as late as 1973 in the Victoria River District. The most notorious and famed walk-off is the 1966 walk-off of the Gurindji people at Wave Hill.

    The Gurindji Strike on Wave Hill Station began on 23 August 1966. The walk-off to Daguragu (Wattie Creek) was led by Vincent Lingiari in response to the Arbitration Commission's decision to not pay Aboriginal pastoral workers equal wages. It would not be until 1968 that the poor conditions meted out by station owner Lord Vestey were recognised by the Government of the day. The Gurindji people were supporting their rights to equal wages and equal treatment of their people. Monies and basic food and health care given Lord Vestey by the Government for the provisioning of Aboriginal people on his property were withheld. These monies include child endowment, housing and wages. Food and health care were also withheld and are only given out on rare occasions.

    In the early stages of the walk-off, the Government threatens to kick the Gurindji people off their land. In a turn of events the Government offers to build houses, but the Gurindji people stand firm. Public opinion begins to swing in the Gurindjis' favour and, with the success of the 1967 referendum, they gather support. In 1972, after the election to government of the Australian Labor Party, land rights are back on the agenda and a small parcel of land is returned to the Gurindji people. The petition to the Government states:

    Our people lived here from time immemorial, and our culture, myths, dreaming and sacred places have evolved in this land. Many of our forefathers were killed in the early days while trying to retain it. Therefore we feel that morally the land is ours and should be returned to us.

    (Aboriginal Australians : Black Response to White Dominance 1788-1980. Author: Richard Broome

    It is not until nine years later that the Gurindji people are recognised as the traditional owners and acknowledged by the newly elected Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam when he poured sand into Vincent Lingiari's hand. Today a large section of this country is owned and maintained by the Gurindji people.


    Commonwealth Referendum with an overwhelming YES vote, leads to the Commonwealth Government now able to legislate on Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people are also granted citizenship.


    The Aboriginal community of Yirrkala, Northern Territory, brings action against Nabalco Pty Ltd and the Commonwealth in what becomes known as the Gove Land Rights Case. The action seeks to prove the Doctrine of Communal Native Title that leases granted under the legislation are invalid and the company's operation is unlawful.

    Aborigines Welfare Board, New South Wales, abolished.

  • Section Two 1971-1999

  • 1971

    Gumatj Elders Millrrpum and others take on Nabalco Pty Ltd and the Commonwealth of Australia in the Gove Land Rights Case.

    Following on from the presentation of a bark petition, Noonkanbah, Western Australia, station workers walk off.

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

    Evonne Goolagong Cawley wins Wimbledon.

    July 12: The Aboriginal flag designed by Harold Thomas is first raised at Victoria Square in Adelaide.

    Neville Bonner was the first Aboriginal person to sit in Federal Parliament. He was a Senator for Queensland from 1971 until 1983, and was a member of the Liberal Party.


    Aboriginal people pitch their Tent Embassy outside Parliament House in Canberra.

    The Whitlam Government brings in a policy of self-determination.


    Federal Racial Discrimination Act passed.


    Kevin Gilbert's oral history, Living Black, wins the National Book Council Award.

    Respected Indigenous leader, Galarrwuy Yunupingu, is named Australian of the Year.


    The first Aboriginal person in Federal Parliament, Senator Neville Bonner, is named Australian of the Year.


    The National Federation of Land Councils is formed, giving a united voice to the Land Rights movement throughout Australia

    Link Up (NSW) Aboriginal Corporation is established, followed by Link-Up Qld in 1988. The organisations provide family tracing, reunion and support for forcibly removed children and their families.


    Secretariat of National Aboriginal Islander Child Care (SNAICC) established. SNAICC represents the interests on a national level of Australia's 100 or so children's care services.


    Mark Ella named Young Australian of the Year. Ella, captain of the Australian Rugby Union team (known as the Wallabies), was one of three brothers, all of whom played for the Wallabies, from the Aboriginal community of La Perouse.


    New South Wales Land Rights Act passes into law.


    Prime Minister Bob Hawke announces the removal of Aboriginal Peoples' limited right to say 'yes or no' to mining on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory.

    Aboriginal Leader from South Australia, Lowitja O'Donoghue, named Australian of the Year.

    The first Putalina Festival is held at Oyster Cove (‘putalina’ in the local language). It celebrates Aboriginal culture with music, dance and festivities, and provides a platform for young Aboriginal performers. Oyster Cove was handed back to Aboriginal people in 1995.


    Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock) is handed back to traditional owners, Anangu was a controversial event. The federal government announced that it would return the Park land to the traditional owners on the condition that it be leased back to the federal parks service for ninety-nine years.


    Jack Davis's play, No Sugar, receives international acclaim when it represents Australia at the World Theatre Festival in Canada, and is co-winner that year of the Australian Writers' Guild award for best original stage play.


    Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody begins.

    The newly established Aboriginal publishing house, Magabala Books, released its first title, Mayi – Some Bushfruits of the West Kimberley by Merrilee Lands. Wandering Girl, an autobiography by Glenyse Ward, was Magabala's next title.


    26 January: Survival Day March celebrating Aboriginal survival. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with supporters from around Australia converge on Sydney, New South Wales, to protest.

    Yuin man Burnum Burnum raised the Aboriginal Flag on the white cliffs of Dover, to proclaim England for the Aboriginal people. This lone protest attracted world media coverage.

    11 June: The Barunga Statement is presented to Prime Minister Bob Hawke calling for:

    'Aboriginal self-management, a national system of land rights, compensation for loss of lands, respect for Aboriginal identity, an end to discrimination, and the granting of full civil, economic, social and cultural rights'.

    Howie-Willis, Ian. Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia.

    Kevin Gilbert is awarded, and refuses, the Human Rights Award for Literature.


    Graeme Dixon wins the inaugural David Unaipon Award for Holocaust Island.


    The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) is established to facilitate the formal involvement of Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders in the processes of government that affected them and their lives.

    Doris Pilkington Gari Mara wins the David Unaipon Award for Caprice: A Stockman's Daughter.

    Jimmy Chi's musical Bran Nue Dae tours Australia.

    Ilbijerri Aboriginal Theatre was established by local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and community members in Melbourne. Ilbijerri (pronounced il BIDGE er ree) is a Woiwurrung word meaning ‘Coming Together for Ceremony’. Ilbijerri is the longest running Indigenous theatre company in Australia.

    Cathy Freeman, Commonwealth Games gold medallist, named Young Australian of the Year.


    Final report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody is released.

    Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation formed.

    Bill Dodd wins the David Unaipon Award for Broken Dreams.

    Bill Rosser wins the Kate Challis RAKA Award for Creative Prose for his book Up Rode the Troopers : The Black Police in Queensland.


    3 June: High Court's Mabo Decision : The High Court of Australia brings down its decision that rewrites Australia's law on the impact of colonisation. Australia was not terra nullius when invaded by the British in 1788 but occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples who had their own laws and customs and whose 'native title' to land survived the Crown's annexation of Australia.

    Each year Mabo Day is celebrated on 3 June in respect of the Elders Eddie Mabo, James Rice, Father Paul Passi, Sam Passi and Celuia Mapo Salee who were the five plaintiffs in a landmark case brought against the Queensland Government in 1982. It is not until 1992 that the High Court declares that the Queensland Coast Islands Declaratory Act 1985 contravenes section 10 of the Racial Discrimination Act (1975). Mabo Day is a result of this landmark decision by the High Court of Australia that overruled the legality of terra nullius that failed to recognise Indigenous Peoples' prior occupation where Native Title had not been extinguished

    Mabo Day is named after Eddie Mabo, a Meriam man from the Murray Islands in the Torres Strait. Mabo Day also marks the last day of Reconciliation Week and commemorates Indigenous voices and supports the co-existence of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people Australia wide.

    10 December: Paul Keating is the first Australian Prime Minister to publicly acknowledge that Europeans were responsible for Aboriginal disadvantage. Known as the 'Redfern Park Speech', it is now considered to be one of the great Australian speeches. Speaking to a crowd at Redfern Park, Keating acknowledges the impact of European settlement on Indigenous Australians. He said: 'It was we who did the dispossessing; we took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases and the alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practiced discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice, and our failure to imagine that these things could be done to us.'

    Mandawuy Yunipingu, Aboriginal educator, musician and ambassador, is named Australian of the Year.

    Jack Davis wins the Kate Challis RAKA Award for his play, No Sugar.

    Philip McLaren wins the David Unaipon Award for Sweet Water-Stolen Land.


    John Muk Muk Burke wins the David Unaipon Award for Bridge of Triangles.

    Yirra Yaakin is established in Perth as an offshoot of Barking Gecko Theatre Company.

    The first Wardarnji Festival is held in Fremantle and grows to become one of the biggest Aboriginal celebrations on the Perth calendar. The name comes from the Wardandi Nyoongar people of the south-west of WA.


    The Going Home Conference, Darwin (see Koori Mail coverage, brings together over 600 Aboriginal people removed as children to discuss common goals of access to archives, compensation, rights to land and social justice.

    The Deadly Awards (The Deadlys) are established to recognise the contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to their community and to Australian society.

    Valda Gee and Rosalie Medcraft win the David Unaipon Award for The Sausage Tree.


    Inquiry into the Stolen Children conducted by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

    Search subject: Stolen generations

    Warrigal Anderson wins the David Unaipon Award for Warrigal's Way.

    Kevin Gilbert wins the Kate Challis RAKA Award for poetry for his collection, Black from the Edge.


    High Court Wik decision: Native Title co-exists with leasehold property rights but in the event of conflict, the rights of the leaseholder will prevail.

    See: Jean George

    27 May: Reconciliation Week, celebrated annually and starting on 27 May. Reconciliation Week began nationally in 1996. It starts on 27 May and runs till 3 June every year. The week is designed to celebrate differences whilst bringing people together and making people aware of the disadvantages of Indigenous people. Reconciliation Week is also about celebrating our past and our future and in the process informing others of Indigenous history and culture.

    NSW Premier Bob Carr is the first State premier to apologise to the Stolen Generations in Parliament. He said in November: 'I reaffirm in this place, formally and solemnly as Premier, on behalf of the government and people of New South Wales, our apology to Aboriginal people.'

    Steven McCarthy wins the David Unaipon Award for Black Angels Red Blood.


    Bringing Them Home: The 'Stolen Children' Report (Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families) delivered.

    See: Bringing Them Home Oral History Project

    8 May: The Wik '10-Point-Plan' announced.

    See: Human Rights Council summary

    12 October: First ANTaR Sea of Hands is assembled on the lawns of Old Parliament House, Canberra.

    John Bodey wins the David Unaipon Award for When Darkness Falls.

    John Harding wins the Kate Challis RAKA Award for his play Up The Road.

    Kyle Morrison is awarded National NAIDOC Youth of the Year.

    See: NAIDOC Award recipients

    Festival of the Dreaming was the first of four Olympiad arts festivals leading up to the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. The festival was a celebration of the world’s indigenous cultures and included dance, song, story-telling, painting and craft as well as contemporary indigenous arts such as music, theatre, dance, painting and literature. The festival was produced by Rhoda Roberts. Box the Pony premiered at the Festival of the Dreaming. Co-written by Leah Purcell and Scott Rankin, it is one-woman show, set in an Aboriginal community in Queensland much like Cherbourg where Purcell grew up.

    Olympic Gold Medallist Nova Peris is named Young Australian of the Year


    26 May: First National Sorry Day. This first National Sorry Day was a result of one of the recommendations from Bringing Them Home: The 'Stolen Children' Report by Sir Ronald Wilson. This day is in recognition of the inhumane treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders by the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families by government policies such as the 1905 Act. Sorry Day is now an annual event year with community activities such as marches, the signing of 'Sorry Day' books and the creation of websites and artworks marking the the beginning of Reconciliation Week.

    See the Koori Mail coverage here.

    Patrick Dodson and Mick Dodson are Joint Winners of the National NAIDOC Person of the Year award.

    Queenie McKenzie is awarded National NAIDOC Elder of the Year (Female).

    Ali Drummond is awarded National NAIDOC Sportsperson of the Year.

    Ruth Hegarty wins the David Unaipon Award for Is that You, Ruthie?

    World champion athlete Cathy Freeman is named Australian of the Year.

    Mutawintji National Park handed back to traditional owners on 15 September. For thousands of years, Aboriginal people throughout western New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland used Mutawintji as a meeting place and ceremonial place. The hand-stencilling tradition in this area goes back at least 15,000 to 20,000 years.


    Samuel Wagan Watson wins the David Unaipon Award for Of Muse, Meandering and Midnight.

    Kim Scott wins the Western Australian Premier's Book Award in both the fiction and overall categories for Benang: From the Heart.

    Author and musician Bob Randall is awarded National NAIDOC Person of the Year. Geoff Shaw is awarded National NAIDOC Elder of the Year (Male). Author and painter Wenten Rubuntja is awarded National NAIDOC Artist of the Year. Designer and artistic director Samantha Cook is awarded Joint Winner of National NAIDOC Youth of the Year alongside Jeremy Geia.

    Prime Minister John Howard proposes a preamble to the Constitution, which recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures - but it is defeated along with the referendum on becoming a Republic.

  • Section Three : 2000–

  • 2000

    Vivienne Cleven wins the David Unaipon Award for Bitin' Back.

    Corroboree 2000 and the Walk for Reconciliation occurs.

    Cathy Freeman wins gold at the Sydney Olympics.

    Kim Scott wins Miles Franklin Literary Award (shared with Thea Astley) for his novel Benang: From the Heart.

    John Muk Muk Burke wins the Kate Challis RAKA Award for his poetry collection Night Song and Other Poems.

    Footballer, boxer, and children's author Anthony Mundine is awarded National NAIDOC Person of the Year.

    Yvonne Augius is awarded National NAIDOC Elder of the Year (Female).

    Search for recipients of National NAIDOC Awards.


    Robert Lowe wins the David Unaipon Award for The Mish.

    Kim Scott wins the Kate Challis RAKA Award for Creative Prose for his novel Benang: From the Heart.

    Musician Kutcha Edwards is awarded National NAIDOC Person of the Year. Poet Cec Fisher is awarded National NAIDOC Elder of the Year (Male).


    Larissa Behrendt wins the David Unaipon Award for Home.

    Jane Harrison and Dallas Winmar are joint winners of the Kate Challis RAKA Award: Jane Harrison for her play Stolen, and Dallas Winmar for her play Aliwa!.

    Playwright Peter Coppin is awarded National NAIDOC Elder of the Year (Male). Ida West is awarded National NAIDOC Elder of the Year (Female).


    Fiona Doyle wins the David Unaipon Award for Whispers of This Wik Woman.

    Actor and playwright Deborah Mailman is awarded National NAIDOC Person of the Year.

    Fred Penny is awarded National NAIDOC Scholar of the Year.

    Stacey Kelly-Greenup is awarded National NAIDOC Youth of the Year.


    19 November: In Queensland, Mulrunji, an Indigenous Palm Island resident, died of injuries in a police cell after being arrested for allegedly causing a public nuisance. His death led to civic disturbances on the island and a legal, political and media sensation that continued for three years, culminating in the first trial of an Australian police officer for a death in custody. The officer was finally acquitted by a jury in June 2007. It continues to be a defining event in Black White relations in Australia.

    Tara June Winch wins the David Unaipon Award for Swallow the Air.

    Aden Ridgeway is awarded National NAIDOC Person of the Year.

    Columnist Jirra Lulla Harvey is awarded National NAIDOC Artist of the Year.

    The first Black Harmony Gathering was held on the banks of the Yarra River celebrating the cultural diversity in Harmony Week.


    March 23: The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) abolished.

    Yvette Holt wins the David Unaipon Award for Anonymous Premonition.

    Alexander Brown wins the Kate Challis RAKA Award for the poetry collection Ngarla Songs. Brown had worked with the linguist Brian Geytenbeek to collect, translate and assemble the most telling songs of the Ngarla people (who retain their ownership of these songs). In the resulting poems in English Brown gives us images, movement and gestures with a direct physicality.

    Larissa Behrendt wins the Commonwealth Writers Prize, South East Asia and South Pacific Region, Best First Book for Home.

    Ruby Langford Ginibi wins the New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards, Special Award.

    Wesley Enoch wins the Patrick White Playwrights' Award for The Story of the Miracles at Cookie's Table.

    Cheryl Buchanan is awarded National NAIDOC Person of the Year jointly with Rodney Dillon.

    Albert Holt is awarded National NAIDOC Elder of the Year (Male).

    Musician Kerrianne Cox is awarded National NAIDOC Artist of the Year. Novelist Joleen Ryan is awarded National NAIDOC Youth of the Year.

    Tony Briggs wins the Helpmann award for his play, The Sapphires, produced by Melbourne Theatre Company.


    Vivienne Cleven wins the Kate Challis RAKA Award for Creative Prose for her two distinctive and accomplished novels, Bitin' Back and Her Sister's Eye. These works challenge stereotypes and give a previously unexpressed voice to Indigenous experience in rural Queensland.

    Tara June Winch wins the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, Prize for Indigenous Writing for Swallow the Air, and is shortlisted for Arts the Queensland Steele Rudd Australian Short Story Award, and the Age Book of the Year Award, Fiction Prize. Tara is highly commended in the FAW Christina Stead Award and commended in the Kate Challis RAKA Award.

    Gayle Kennedy wins the David Unaipon Award for Me, Antman, and Fleabag.

    Wesley Enoch's play, The Story of the Miracles at Cookie's Table, is produced in Tokyo as part of the Dramatic Australia Festival at the Repertory Theatre KAZE. Performed in Japanese with translation by Keiji Sawada and Rei Sudo.

    Ruby Langford Ginibi wins Australia Council Grants, Awards and Fellowships, Writers' Emeritus Award.

    Author and columnist Stephen Hagan is awarded National NAIDOC Person of the Year.

    Vince Ross is awarded National NAIDOC Elder of the Year (Male).

    Essayist Judy Tatow is awarded National NAIDOC Elder of the Year (Female).

    Ten Canoes is the first feature film in Australia to be made entirely in an Aboriginal language (although narrated in English). Renowned actor David Gulpilil is the storyteller.

    Indigenous nurse and mentor Sally Goold is named Senior Australian of the Year.

    On 28 January, Warren Mundine, who is a member of the Bundjalung nation, succeeds Barry Jones as President of the Australian Labor Party. He becomes the first Indigenous Australian to serve as President of an Australian political party and serves one term as national President, stepping down in 2007.


    May 25: The 1967 Referendum is commemorated around Australia including a panel of writers at the Sydney Writers Festival with Anita Heiss, Richard Frankland, Ruby Langford Ginibi, Aden Ridgeway and Lilian Holt.

    June: The Intervention is established. With the exception of some prominent Aboriginal commentators, Aboriginal groups strongly condemned the Intervention. The authors of the Little Children are Sacred Report also spoke out against it, arguing that its heavy handed, top-down approach was inconsistent with the recommendations in the report. Source: (Sighted: 15/4/09)

    Tara June Winch wins the Nita May Dobbie Award, and the New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards, UTS Award for New Writing for Swallow the Air. Tara is joint winner in The Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Novelist of the Year, and is shortlisted in the Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIA), Australian Newcomer of the Year.

    Alexis Wright wins the Miles Franklin Literary Award, for Carpentaria. For the same epic novel she wins the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal, the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, The Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction, the New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, The Age Book of the Year Award, Fiction Prize, the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards, Best Fiction Book, the Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIA), Australian Literary Fiction Book of the Year. Carpentaria was also shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize, South East Asia and South Pacific Region, Best Book, and was nominated for the Deadly Sounds Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Music, Sport, Entertainment and Community Awards, Outstanding Achievement in Literature.

    Anita Heiss wins the Scanlon Prize for Indigenous Poetry for her collection I'm Not Racist, But ... a collection of social observations. She also wins the Deadly Sounds Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Music, Sport, Entertainment and Community Awards, Outstanding Achievement in Literature for her novel Not Meeting Mr Right.

    Elizabeth Hodgson wins the David Unaipon Award for Skin Painting.

    Richard Frankland's Digger J Jones is nominated for the Deadly Sounds Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Music, Sport, Entertainment and Community Awards, Outstanding Achievement in Literature.

    Jane Garlil Christophersen is nominated for a Deadly Sounds Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Music, Sport, Entertainment and Community Awards, Outstanding Achievement in Literature for Kakadu Calling: Stories for Kids.

    Wesley Enoch's play The Story of the Miracles at Cookie's Table is produced by Griffin Theatre Company at SBW Stables Theatre, Sydney, directed by Marion Potts.

    Tammy Anderson's solo show Itchy Clacker is presented by Ilbijerri Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Theatre at the Melbourne Comedy festival at the Powder Room, Melbourne Town Hall.

    BlackWords is officially launched at Sydney Writers Festival by Anita Heiss, Larissa Behrendt and Tara June Winch. A plenary session on BlackWords and teaching Indigenous literature is held at the annual Association for the Study of Australian Literature conference at The University of Queensland in July.

    Ruby Langford Ginibi wins National NAIDOC Awards, Elder of the Year (Female).

    Playwright, actor, and director Leah Purcell is awarded the National NAIDOC Artist of the Year.

    The documentary Kanyini, the story of author and storyteller Bob Randall is voted 'best documentary' at the London Australian Film Festival.

    Fiona Doyle's biography of her grandmother Whispers of this Wik Woman, premiers at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brisbane, produced by Kooemba Jdarra Indigenous Performing Arts Company.

    Sam Watson makes his playwriting debut with The Mack, written in association with the Brisbane-based Kooemba Jdarra Indigenous Performing Arts Company, and first performed at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brisbane.


    In an historic act of reconciliation on the first full day of the 42nd Parliament of Australia, the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd offers an apology. See also: The Apology to the Stolen Generations.

    The Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature is published by Allen & Unwin and brings together for the first time 81 Aboriginal writers, songwriters, playwrights, poets, social commentators, journalists, cultural activists and political heroes in one volume. Marking the evolution of Aboriginal literature in English from Bennelong's letter in 1796 right through to Alexis Wright's Carpentaria (2006), the anthology is targeted at the education sector with an on-line teachers' guide designed to assist use of the book in the classroom. The book has been published in Canada by McGill-Queens for the North American market and Norton in the UK.

    Yvette Holt wins the Scanlon Prize for Poetry and the Victorian Premier's Prize for Indigenous Writing for her poetry collection Anonymous Premonition.

    Tara June Winch awarded the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative Literature Mentorship - to be mentored by Nigerian Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka

    The second national Indigenous Literacy Day was held to raise much needed funds for literacy projects in remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. Dr Anita Heiss, Alexis Wright and Tara June Winch are ILD Ambassadors.

    Marcia Langton was awarded the Alfred Deakin Prize for an Essay Advancing Public Debate at the 2008 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards for her essay 'Trapped in the Aboriginal Reality Show' published in Griffith Review.

    Dallas Winmar wrote and Wesley Enoch directed, the play, 'Yibiyung'. Presented at Belvoir St Theatre in Sydney, the cast included: Jada Alberts, Jimi Bani, Sibylla Budd, Annie Byron, Russell Dykstra, Roxanne McDonald, David Page, Melodie Reynolds and Miranda Tapsell

    Written by Scott Rankin and co-creator/key performer Trevor Jamieson, 'Ngapartji Ngapartji' was presented at the Belvoir St Theatre, in Sydney.

    Marie Munkara wins The David Unaipon for her collection of stories, 'Every Secret Thing'.

    Anita Heiss & Peter Minter wins the 2008 Deadly Award for Outstanding Achievement in Literature for the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature.

    Written by Rachel Perkins, Louis Nowra and Beck Cole, The First Australians television series chronicles the birth of contemporary Australia from the perspective of its first people. Over seven episodes the series explores the impact of invasion and colonisation on the oldest living culture in the world.

    Patrick Dodson is awarded the Sydney Peace Prize.

    The Spirit Festival was first held in Adelaide and was named in recognition of the spirit of sport, the spirit of the arts and most importantly the spirit of our people and our culture.

    In July Yolgnu and Bininj clans across Arnhem Land presented Prime Minister Mr Kevin Rudd with a statement calling on the government to 'work towards constitutional recognition of our prior ownership and rights'. In accepting the communiqué, the Prime Minister pledged his support for recognition of Indigenous peoples in the Constitution.


    Jack Charles vs The Crown written by Jack Charles & John Romeril and directed by Rachael Maza, is presented at Belvoir St Theatre.

    black+write Indigenous Writing Fellowships were awarded to Ali Cobby-Eckermann for Ruby Moonlight and Sue McPherson for Grace Beside Me.

    Kim Scott wins the Kate Challis RAKA Award for his novel That Deadman Dance.

    On August 26 to mark what is now known as ‘Freedom Day’, thousands march to marked the 45th Anniversary of the Wave Hill Walk Off at Kalkarindji and Dagaragu, the home of the Gurindji nation (and supported by the associated nations of the Malgnin, Mudpurra, Bilinara, Nyarinman and Warlpiri peoples). The protest led by Vincent Lingiari in 1966 was a demand for rights to traditional country, and to be treated equally with other Australians employed on the land.

    Dylan Coleman wins the David Unaipon Award for Mazin Grace.

    Kim Scott wins the Miles Franklin Award, the ALS Gold Medal, the Commonwealth Writers Prize, and a number of other awards, including the inaugural Victorian Prize for Literature for That Deadman Dance. Kim Scott also wins the Kate Challis Raka award for That Deadman Dance. Alexis Wright (Carpentaria), Gayle Kennedy (Me, Antman & Fleabag) and Tony Birch (Shadowboxing) were shortlisted.


    26 January – Well known Redfern community advocate Shane Phillips wins the Australian of the Year award for Australia’s Local Hero. Shane is the CEO of the Tribal Warrior Association and works tirelessly on improving the lives of Aboriginal people in Redfern.

    Boori Monty Pryor appointed as the first Aboriginal Australian Children’s Laureate (joint appointment with Alison Lester).

    January 2012 marks the 20-year anniversary of the 1992 High Court decision in favour of Eddie Mabo. Mabo, directed by Rachel Perkins airs on ABC television, as does the six-part series Redfern Now, the first contemporary TV drama series written, directed and produced by Indigenous Australians.

    Anita Heiss wins the Victorian Premier's Award for Indigenous Writing for her book, Am I Black Enough For You?

    Siv Parker wins the David Unaipon Award for Story.

    Kim Scott wins the Book of the Year in the NSW Premier's Literary Awards and the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction for That Deadman Dance.

    Bill Gammage wins the Victorian Premier Literary Award for his book, The Biggest Estate on Earth; How the Aborigines made Australia.

    Ali Cobby Eckermann wins the 2012 Deadly Award for Outstanding Achievement in Literature for her novel in verse, Ruby Moonlight

    Poet and storyteller Herb Wharton awarded the Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature.

    Anita Heiss wins the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Indigenous Writing.

    The process for holding a national referendum on constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians begins.

    National Indigenous Television becomes free to air on Dec 12, 2012.


    Yirra Yaakin celebrates 21 years as Western Australia’s leading Aboriginal performing arts company.

    The late Dr Yunupingu from Aboriginal band Yothu Yindi posthumously receives the Companion of the Order of Australia, one of Australia’s highest honours. The award recognises the highest degree of service to humanity.

    Sydney Swans AFL player Adam Goodes is named Australian of the Year.

    Mother and daughter Lesley and Tammy Williams win the David Unaipon Awards for their work Not Just Black and White: A Conversation Between a Mother and Daughter.

    David Gulpilil wins Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his role in Charlie’s Country directed by Rolf de Heer. Gulpilil also picked up the Best lead Actor award at the AACTA Awards.

    Alexis Wright wins the ALS Gold Medal award for her outstanding literary work The Swan Book.

    Melissa Lucashenko wins the prize for Indigenous Writing in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards for her novel Mullumbimby.

    Henry Reynolds wins the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for his non-fiction Forgotten War.

    Fiona Paisley wins the Magarey Medal for Biography (ASAL Awards) for her biography The Lone Protestor: A M Fernando in Australia and Europe.

    National Indigenous Human Rights Awards saw Rosalie Kunoth-Monks receive the Dr Yunupingu Award for Human Rights; Eddie Murray (posthumously awarded to his family) the Eddie Mabo Award for Social Justice; and Barbara McGrady the recipient of the Anthony Mundine Award for Courage.

    Recognised for her work Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, Doris Pilkington Garimara dies on the 10 April.


    Aboriginal activist and leader of the campaign for the 1967 referendum for Aboriginal Australians, Faith Bandler dies on 13 February, she was 96.

    Leeanne Enoch MP is the first Aboriginal woman to be elected in Queensland Government.

    A star is named in honour of Eddie Koiki Mabo at a naming ceremony at the Sydney Observatory. Co-ordinates for location of the SSSC star Koiki: sssc803504 RA 12:12:21.9 Dec -62:57:03.0 Mag: 5.97 Constellation: Crux GSC 9878:5899 SAO 251790

    Singer songwriter, teacher and activist Bob Randall dies on 13 May; he is best known for his “anthem” for the Stolen Generations, 'My Brown Skinned Baby'.


    Aboriginal languages programmes become a new subject in schools.

    22 January: Tasmanian premier Will Hodgman announces changes to the Tasmanian criteria for Aboriginality, replacing the state government's own eligibility policy with Commonwealth guidelines, in line with other states.


    January: Wiradjuri Elder Jenny Munro is a headline speaker at the Women's March in Sydney.

    February: June Oscar AO is named Australian Human Rights Commission's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Social Justice Commissioner, the first Indigenous woman to hold the position.

    April: Australia's first Indigenous animated children's program, Little J and Big Cuz, launches.

    13 May: Isaiah Firebrace, then seventeen, represents Australia at the Eurovision Song Contest, placing ninth in the final.

    19 May: artefacts found in a Barrow Island cave date First Nations occupation of Australia to more than 50,000 years ago.

    26 May: delegates to an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Referendum Convention near Uluru in Central Australia release the 'Uluru Statement from the Heart', calling for a First Nations voice in the Australian constitution and a commission to supervise decision making between government and First Nations people.

    3 June: the 25th anniversary of the 'Mabo decision' (Mabo v Queensland No. 2) is marked.

    25 July: musician Dr G Yunupingu dies, aged 46.

    July: Federal Court determines that Yindjibarndi are entitled to exclusive native title rights over Pilbara land. The proceedings began in 2003. They continue to seek compensation from Fortescue Metals Group, which began mining the land for iron ore in 2013.

    July: yacht Southern Excellence enters the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race with a crew from the Tribal Warrior Aboriginal Corporation from Redfern, the first Indigenous crew to officially enter the race. (Southern Excellence completed the route the previous year, but without officially registering for the race.)

    September: graffiti on the statue of Captain Cook in Sydney draws attention to the use of the term 'discovered' for Cook's arrival in Australia.

    September: Warwick Thornton's Sweet Country wins the Special Jury Prize and the Premio Bisato d'Oro at the Venice Film Festival.

    November: Royal Commissioners Margaret White and Mick Gooda hand over the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory at Parliament House.

    November: the remains of 'Mungo Man', held by the Australian National University since 1974, were repatriated.

    18 November: Lidia Thorpe becomes the first Aboriginal representative elected to the Parliament of Victoria.

    29 November: Solomon (Sol) David Bellear, activist, rugby league player, and member of ATSIC, dies, aged 66.


    February: Harley Windsor, figure skater, becomes the first Indigenous Australian to represent Australia at the Winter Olympics, skating with partner Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya.

    May: Jessica Mauboy represents Australia at the Eurovision Song Contest in Portugal, finishing in 20th place.

    May: Kaylene Whiskey wins the Sulman Prize for 'Kaylene TV'.

    June: Ashleigh Gardner becomes the first Indigenous Australian woman to play in a cricket World Cup, competing against Pakistan.

    July: Pat Anderson receives the Lifetime Achievement Award at the NAIDOC Awards.

    28 August: Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott is appointed to the controversial role of Special Envoy for Indigenous Affairs, to backlash.

    26 November: Indigenous rights activist Dr Ernestine 'Bonita' Mabo AO dies, aged 75. As well as her work with her late husband, Eddie Mabo, on land rights, she was known for advocacy for Indigenous schooling and equal rights.

    Early December: Warwick Thornton's Sweet Country sweeps the AACTAs, winning eight awards including Best Film and Best Director. Rachel Perkins' Mystery Road wins three awards, including a Best Supporting Actress award for Deborah Mailman.

    21 December: The Australian Football League (AFL) appoints its first Indigenous commissioner, Palkyu woman Professor Helen Milroy, to help address the lack of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation in the boardroom. Professor Milroy specialises in mental health.

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