Important moments in time
War heroes: About 3,000 Indigenous Australians enlisted in the defence forces during World War II and the Vietnam War. Their efforts included many acts of outstanding courage. Their contribution is honoured in a modest memorial in bushland 200 metres behind the Australian War Memorial. Many Indigenous soldiers feel they did not receive the respect they deserved for the part they played in fighting for their country.
Freedom rides: In 1965, spurred by the USA bus and freedom rides in the segregated south, Ted Noffs of the Sydney Wayside Chapel, Indigenous activist Charles Perkins, Jim Spigelman (later the NSW Chief Justice) and some Sydney University students chartered a bus and drove through country NSW to show the prevalence of grass-roots racism and discrimination. The results horrified many Australians.
Indigenous vote: On 27 May 1967, a Federal Referendum voted to remove clauses from the Australian Constitution that discriminated against Indigenous Australians. This gave the Federal Government the power to override discriminatory State laws, such as the inability for Indigenous people to vote.
Indigenous flag: The black, yellow and red flag of the Indigenous people is now recognisable around Australia – as well as overseas, particularly after Olympics gold medallist and Indigenous sportswoman Cathy Freeman draped her people’s flag around her for her victory lap after winning gold at the Sydney Olympics. The flag was designed by Indigenous artist Harold Thomas in 1971 as a symbol for Indigenous people – black for the people, red for the earth and the people’s relationship with the land, and yellow for the sun, the giver of life. Thomas had noticed during late 1960s–1970s land rights protest marches that Indigenous people needed to be more visible, and so came the idea of the flag. It was first raised in Adelaide on National Aboriginal Day in 1971 and adopted nationally in 1972. On 14 July 1995 the flag was given legal recognition as a ‘flag of Australia’ and proclaimed as such by the Governor General William Hayden. See www.ausflag.com.au.
Canberra protests: Indigenous people created an Aboriginal 'Tent Embassy' on the lawns opposite the main entrance of Australia’s Old Parliament House, Canberra, in 1972 after a land rights protest on the site on 26 January 1972. Since then, people have come from around Australia to take part in the permanent camp protest. The site has been recognised by the Australian Heritage Commission as a site of special cultural significance and entered on the Register of National Estate. The site has significance to Indigenous people from pre-embassy days – in 1925 scrapers and points were found on the sandy ridge between Parliament House and the Molonglo River and other traditional tools have since been found in the ground. The first Indigenous protest at the site was in 1927, during the opening of Old Parliament House.
Vincent Lingiari: Australian singer/songwriter Paul Kelly chronicled the story of Indigenous stockman Vincent Lingiari in his song From Little Things Big Things Grow. Mr Lingiari led a group of Gurindji stockman who sought the same pay as non-Indigenous stockmen. They had been paid only in rations for their work. After resistance, and a strike where they camped at Wattie Creek, the men got the money. The Gurindji people then lobbied for the rights to their traditional land and in 1975, after eight years, they were granted title of 320,000 hectares of land.
Nookenbah: In 1980 the community at Nookenbah, in WA’s Kimberley, formed a blockade to stop Amax Mining drilling on a sacred site. They were unsuccessful but the conflict had national and international media coverage and helped put the spotlight on Indigenous land rights as an important issue.
Deaths in Custody: The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was tabled in 1991 to examine why disproportionately high numbers of Indigenous people were dying while in police custody, particularly in WA. Their deaths were from injuries received at the time of their arrest, drug or alcohol abuse or suicide. There were 339 recommendations, many of which have been followed. Examples are provision of a ‘safe cell’, and use of Indigenous street patrols to take the ill to hospital and the drunk to sobering-up shelters rather than police lock-ups.
Mabo: Eddie Mabo and five others from the Murray Islands in the Torres Strait went to Australia’s High Court to seek rights to their land. On 3 June 1992, after 10 years, and Mr Mabo’s passing, the court overruled first settlement decrees that the continent was ‘terra nullius’, or unowned and unoccupied. This was followed by the creation of the Native Title Act 1993 (amended in 1998) which gave Indigenous people the right to seek native title of land or waters.
Bringing Them Home and National Sorry Day: The Bringing Them Home report was the result of a Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission inquiry into the forced separation of Indigenous children from their families for more than 60 years from early last century. The report, released on 26 May 1997, produced 54 recommendations which aimed to overcome past injustices to Indigenous people. The acknowledgement is remembered every 26 May on National Sorry Day.
Motion of Reconciliation: The then Prime Minister John Howard moved a Motion of Reconciliation on 26 August 1999, which expressed “deep and sincere regret that Indigenous Australians suffered injustices under the practices of past generations, and for the hurt and trauma that many Indigenous people continue to feel as a consequence of those practices". Mr Howard was both criticised and supported for his refusal to say “sorry”.
Federal Apology: On 13 February 2008, the Commonwealth parliament passed a motion that formally apologised to the Stolen Generations. The then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd tabled the motion, apologising to Indigenous Australians for "for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss".
Gordon inquiry: The WA Government’s one million dollar inquiry, the Gordon Inquiry, into child abuse and family violence in Indigenous communities was tabled in State Parliament in August 2002. The then WA Premier Geoff Gallop said the incidence of violence and abuse was “shocking and difficult to comprehend” and he wanted a national response to the inquiry. The 640-page report made 197 findings and recommendations. The inquiry was set up after the death of Susan Taylor (15) at the Swan Valley Nyungah Community, near Perth.
ATSIC/ATSIS: The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) was formed in 1990 and operated until 30 June 2005. ATSIC was Australia’s principal democratically-elected Indigenous organisation. It aimed to include Indigenous people in the processes of government affecting their lives to enable them to exercise their legal, economic, social, cultural and political rights. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services (ATSIS) was formed in July 2003 to provide services to ATSIC and administer programs that were previously ATSIC’s responsibility. It was closed on 30 June 2004. Services provided by these organisations are being adopted by relevant Federal government departments.
Political correctness: A growing awareness about the cultural differences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people has resulted in organisations compiling protocols for dealing with Indigenous people or issues. The media, in particular the ABC, has been careful to note sensitivities. Measures include warnings before a program or news item that may include references to a deceased Indigenous person.