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History: Aboriginal Rights & Freedoms

1938 Day of Mourning

- Date of 150th anniversary of First Fleet landing
- Over 100 Aboriginal men & women gathered to mourn their loss of land & identity due to white
- It was a substantial achievement, due to restrictions on Aboriginals at the time
- A list of demands were sent to PM Joseph Lyons, including equality in all ways with white
people and return of their stolen lands
1965 Freedom Rides (Charles Perkins)
- Based on American example, where the civil rights movement was under way
- A group of university students, led by Charles Perkins, travelled around country NSW
protesting to highlight hardships & abuse endured by Aboriginal people
- Raised national awareness about treatment of Aboriginal people (some people were blissfully
oblivious to what went on)
1967 Referendum
- 91% of Australians voted yes for Aboriginals (most successful referendum ever)
- What it achieved: Aboriginal people were included in Census & were controlled by federal
- Previously, Aboriginal people had been under 6 different laws for each state
1963-1997 The Struggle For Land Rights
Native title: Recognition in law that Aboriginal Australians had ownership of the land. This was not
recognised until 1993.
Terra nullius: Land belonging to no one. White people classified Australia as such, ignoring the
indigenous people, for over 200 years.
a) Yirrkala Bark Petition
- The Yolungu people of Yirrkala took a petition to the NT Supreme Court in 1963 about Land
- They lost the case in 1971, but sparked a nation-wide debate about the issue
b) Gurindji People & Wave Hill Protest
- Led by stockman Vincent Lingiari
- 200 Aboriginal workers walked off Wave Hill Station & demanded their land
- Gained significant national attention & support
- In 1975, PM Gough Whitlam symbolically gave the land back to its original inhabitants
c) Tent Embassy
- Erected in 1972 to protest about Aboriginal land rights & treatment
- It was a tent set up on the lawn of Old Parliament House
- Has been used as a protest point several times from 1972 until the present day
d) Woodward Royal Commission
- An inquiry into appropriate ways to recognise Aboriginal Land Rights
- Led by Justice Woodward, who made several recommendations, including:
-return of reserve land & claims over traditional land
-sacred sites protected
-Aboriginal land councils
-Aboriginals able to control tourism/mining entries
-royalties paid to traditional owners of the land by these companies

e) Mabo Decision 1992

- Eddie Mabo took a lands rights case to Qld Court in 1982 for the Meriam people
- Then went to High Court of Australia.
- It challenged the concept of terra nullius.
- In 1992, the High Court decided that the Meriam people could return to their traditional lands.
f) Native Title Act 1993
- Occurred in response to Mabo Decision
- To be able to claim land, Aboriginal people had to prove continuous connection to the land.
- A huge step forward in the land rights campaign.
g) Wik decision 1996
- The Wik people claimed land rights on land that had been leased
- Case went to the High Court & proved that when the land was leased in 1848, the Wik people
were still allowed to walk & hunt on it. Hence they were allowed their claim
- Miners & pastoralists were annoyed as they now had to negotiate with the traditional custodians
h) Amendments to Native Title Act 1997
- In response to the miners & pastoralists unrest following the Wik Decision, the Howard
Government amended the Native Title Act
- These amendments didnt allow negotiations when land had been leased.
- It was a step backwards for the land rights movement.