timeline

The timeline adds information to what is contained in the book and is available on the website, but in the main, doesn't repeat it. Note that some of the pre-contact information is debated by academics and subject to revision as new technology and knowledge becomes available. The abbreviation BP means Before Present.

70,000–60,000 BP

Possible first arrival of people from south-east Asia.

55,000–60,000 BP

At a site in Arnhem in the Northern Territory, a rock shelter was used by people with stone tools who used red ochre, probably to prepare pigments for rock painting or body decoration.

30,000 BP

A man from the Lake Mungo area is buried in a shallow grave, and liberally covered with powdered red ochre. This is one of the earliest known burials of distinctly modern people.

26,500 BP

A women is buried in Lake Mungo, providing the earliest evidence of ritual cremation in the world. These early people had small sculls and delicate bones in comparison to modern Aboriginal people.

23,000 BP

Aborigines are living at Malangangerr in Arnhem Land and using a variety of edge-ground tools.

15–20,000 BP

Deep in caves under the Nullarbor Plains at Koonalda, South Australia, Aboriginal people are mining flint and leaving grooved designs on the cave walls.

18,000 BP

Grindstones are being used for hard fruits, seeds and vegetables and in ochre preparation in Arnhem Land.

12,000–13,000 BP

At the end of the glacial period the seas rise, separating Tasmania from the mainland.

9,000 BP

Aboriginal people at Wyrie Swamp in southeast South Australia are using returning boomerangs to catch waterfowl.

9000–13,000 BP

Several people are buried in different positions in the Kow Swamp, suggesting complex mortuary rituals. They have more robust bone structures than those found at Lake Mungo.

9000–7000 BP

The earliest visible evidence of Aboriginal beliefs connected with the Rainbow Serpent.

5000 BP

A new, small-tool technology is developing in south-eastern Australia. By 3000 BP the technology has spread as far as Cape York.

1451

Dutch documents record the journeys of Macassan trepangers (those seeking sea-cucumber) to ‘Marege’, as the Macassans called Australia. They introduce tobacco and canoes.

1606

Spanish mariner, Luis Vaez de Torres, becomes the first European to travel through what is now called the Torres Strait. Dutchman Willem van Colster’s 1623 exploratory voyage is the first recorded European contact with Aboriginal people in Arnhem Land.

1770

Lieutenant James Cook claims possession of the whole east coast of Australia by raising the British flag at Possession Island in the Torres Strait, just off the northern tip of Cape York Peninsula.

1788

Captain Arthur Phillip raises the Union Jack at Sydney Cove and white colonisation begins. The Aboriginal population is estimated to be more than 750,000, across the continent.

1789

Less than a year after the arrival of the First Fleet, over half the Aboriginal population living in the Sydney basin have died from smallpox.

1792

Young Eora man, Bennelong, is captured, lives with Governor Arthur Phillip in Sydney at Government House and is later taken to Britain. He becomes the first true mediator between Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups.

1803

Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania) is colonised, and several violent clashes ensue.

1824

Conflict between non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal people in the Bathurst district of central western NSW becomes so serious that martial law is proclaimed from August to December.

1830

In what has become known as the ‘Black War’ Governor Arthur tries unsuccessfully to drive all the remaining Aboriginal people in eastern Van Diemen’s Land on to the Tasman Peninsula. It is spectacularly unsuccessful in rounding up people but is a precursor to Aboriginal people later accepting George Augustus Robinson’s suggestion to move to a Flinders Island settlement, before final repatriation to Tasmania in 1847.

1834

Western Australia’s Governor Stirling leads twenty-five mounted police against Aboriginal people following attacks on the white invaders, British colonisation of Western Australia having begun in 1829. Official records show fourteen Aboriginal people are shot in what’s now called the ‘Battle of Pinjarra’; Aboriginal testimonies suggest that far more.

1835

On the banks of the Merri Creek (today’s Northcote suburb of Melbourne) John Batman claims eight clan leaders of what he called the Dutigullar tribe sign a treaty for two tracts of land totalling approximately 243,000 hectares. It is not recognised by Governor Bourke. Batman offers blankets, knives, mirrors, tomahawks, scissors, clothing and flour in return. Today’s scholars dispute that people who have never held a pen, nor practised writing, signed the document.

1837

The Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons on the Aborigines of the British Settlements (North America, Africa, Australasia) concludes that local legislatures are ‘unfit’ to exercise jurisdiction over Aboriginal peoples and their lands. The colonisers ignore the report, and continue to claim Indigenous land as their own.

1838

The first Aboriginal Protectorate was established for Port Philip in Victoria.

At Myall Creek near Inverell in NSW, twenty-eight Aboriginal people are shot by twelve non-Aboriginal men. Seven of the murderers are hung in December and there is public outrage that European men should be convicted for the murder of Aboriginal Australians.

1848

NSW native police troopers are hired and brought to Queensland to track and kill wanted Aboriginal people with whom they have no kinship or alliance, and to help open up the land for settlement.

1851

The colony of Victoria is proclaimed.

1869

The Aboriginal Protection Act 1869 is passed in Victoria, giving the Board for the Protection of Aborigines an extraordinary level of control over Aboriginal people’s lives.

1871

The London Missionary Society, led by Rev. Samuel MacFarlane, lands on Erub (Darnley) Island in the Torres Strait.

1872

The Overland Telegraph line connects Adelaide to Darwin and cuts through the middle of Aboriginal land.

1894

Bunuba man, Jandamarra, a skilled stockman who worked with the police chooses his people over the colonisers. He leads an armed insurgency in the Kimberley. An outlaw to some, a hero to others, his guerrilla war against police and pastoralists lasts for three years.

1906

The peoples of the Great Sandy Desert experience their first contact with white settlers when Canning’s survey team travel 2000 kilometres from Wiluna in Western Australia, surveying the desert and in search of water. It becomes known as the Canning Stock Route.

1918

The Aborigines Ordinance in the Northern Territory combines the 1910 Act (SA) and the 1911 Ordinance (Cth), giving the Chief Protector wide-ranging powers over Aboriginal people.

1926

Aboriginal people are murdered by police following the spearing of a pastoralist in what’s now called the Forrest River Massacre. Two policemen were charged but the case was dropped due to lack of evidence. The 1927 Royal Commission to Inquire into Alleged Killing and Burning of Bodies of Aborigines in the East Kimberly is established. Subsequently, governments were pressured to improve the circumstances of Aboriginal people.

1927

The West Australian state government declares central Perth a prohibited area for Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people could only enter with a ‘native pass’ which was issued by the Commissioner of Native Affairs. This lasts until 1954.

1931

Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory is declared an Aboriginal reserve.

1942

Darwin is bombed by the Japanese and many Aboriginal people are relocated in ‘control camps’, with restrictions placed on their movement. In Arnhem Land, Aboriginal people are recruited into the Northern Territory Special Reconnaissance Unit to defend against the anticipated Japanese invasion.

1949

Aboriginal people who served in World War II gain the right to enrol to vote under the Commonwealth Electoral Act.

1953

The first of three British nuclear tests is conducted at Emu Field in South Australia, leaving many Aboriginal people suffering from radiation sickness.

1957

The Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCMTSI; later FCAATSI) is formed. It continues to petition for Indigenous rights for the next 21 years.

1962

The Commonwealth Electoral Act is amended to give Aboriginal people the right to enrol to vote in all states except Queensland.

1965

Indigenous people in Queensland finally gain the right to enrol to vote in State elections.

1966

The Commonwealth government signs the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

1967

A referendum is held in May to change clauses in the Federal Constitution which discriminate against Aboriginal people. Nearly 91 per cent of Australians vote ‘yes’ for change, and as a result Indigenous people are included in the Census and legislation concerning the welfare of Aborigines passes from State to Commonwealth government.

1971

Larrakia people ‘sit-in’ on Bagot Road, Darwin in a protest against the theft of their land.

1972

The Aboriginal Heritage Act is declared in Western Australia. The Whitlam Government freezes all applications for mining and exploration on Commonwealth Aboriginal reserves.

1973

Mr Justice Woodward of the Aboriginal Land Commission delivers his first report, emphasising Aboriginal people’s right to prevent mining on their land, and signalling a new approach to Aboriginal land rights.

1975

The World Council of Indigenous People is founded.

The Aboriginal Land Fund Commission is established to buy land for Aboriginal groups across Australia.

The Senate unanimously pass a resolution put by Senator Bonner which acknowledges prior Indigenous ownership of Australia, and provides compensation for dispossession of land.
The Racial Discrimination Act is passed by the Whitlam Government. It overrides state and territory legislation and makes racial discrimination unlawful.

1976

Aboriginal law and land rights are finally recognised in the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act. Recognition of land ownership is extended to 11,000 Aboriginal people.

1977

The Yanyuwa people’s claim to crown land at Borroloola commences hearing. It is the first and longest lasting land claim in Australia’s history.

1978

The Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Ordinance is passed, instituting prosecution for trespass and desecration of Aboriginal sites.

1980

International attention is drawn to Aboriginal land rights when Aboriginal people from around Australia travel to Western Australia’s Noonkanbah to help the Yungnogora people fight to stop the Amax mining company from drilling on their land.

The National Federation of Land Councils is formed, giving a national voice to the land rights movement.

1981

The Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act (SA) is passed and a large area of the State is returned to the Pitjantjatjara people.

1982

Aborigines at Ntaria (Hermannsburg mission), in Central Australia are granted freehold title.

1984

Joint Land Councils from the Northern Territory and the states visit Parliament House, Canberra, to protest against the proposed amendments to the Northern Territory’s Aboriginal Land Rights Act and the inadequate provisions in Prime Minister Hawke’s visions of ‘Uniform National Land Rights’.

The Western Australian Government introduces a land rights bill but it is defeated in the Upper House.

1987

Voting becomes compulsory for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory elections.

1988

Tens of thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and some non-Indigenous Australians march through the streets of Sydney on 26 January (Australia Day) to celebrate two hundred years of survival, while many non-Indigenous Australians commemorate the bicentenary of the colonisation of the country.

Prime Minister Hawke responds favourably to the suggestion of a treaty with Indigenous people, but this is never realised.

1989

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) is established by the Federal Government.

1991

Legislation providing for land rights is passed through the Legislative Assembly in Queensland, but is markedly inferior to the standards set in the Northern Territory. Land rights legislation for Tasmanian Aboriginal people is rejected by the upper house.

1992

Prime Minster Paul Keating makes his ‘Redfern Park’ speech at the launch of the International Year of the World’s Indigenous People, in which he acknowledges past wrongs.

1993

The United Nations Year of Indigenous Peoples is celebrated throughout the world. Second World Indigenous Youth Conference held in Darwin, Northern Territory.

1994

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Robert Tickner, places a 25 year ban on the construction of the Hindmarsh Island Bridge, after a group of Ngarrindgeri women claim that it is sacred, but cannot be publicly revealed. The 1995 Hindmarsh Island Royal Commission finds that claims of ‘secret women’s business’ are a fabrication. The later 2001 Federal Court judgment finds that there was no fabrication of ‘secret women’s business’.

2007

The Australian government announce a dramatic intervention into some Northern Territory Aboriginal communities in response to the Little Children Are Sacred Report. Against the recommendations of the report, the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007 is passed, and sections of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 are repealed.

2008

Against the recommendations of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) review, the Australian government continues the Northern Territory intervention for a further twelve months, with some changes.

The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, moves a motion in federal parliament of Apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples with specific reference to the Stolen Generations.
A High Court decision, known as the Blue Mud Bay decision, gives traditional owners native title rights over the inter-tidal zone of Blue Mud Bay rights along the coastline of northeast Arnhem Land.

2009

Australia signs the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2009, after initially refusing along with Canada, United States and New Zealand.

2010

The Queensland Parliament amends the state’s Constitution to include a Preamble providing due recognition to Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Noongar man Ken Wyatt becomes the first Indigenous member of the House of Representatives in the federal parliament.

The first board of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, a representative body advocating for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples rights, is appointed and the company becomes incorporated.

2012

The Aboriginal tent embassy celebrates its 40th anniversary.

The Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians presents its report Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution to the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. In its Report, the Panel unanimously endorsed a specific proposal to amend the Constitution.