Early 20th century history
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July: Part-Aboriginal man Jimmy Governor goes on a rampage killing 10 people. He was captured and hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol, NSW, on 18 January 1901.
1 January: Federation - The Commonwealth Constitution states "in reckoning the numbers of people… Aboriginal natives shall not be counted". It also states that the Commonwealth would legislate for any race except Aboriginal people. This leaves the power over Aboriginal Affairs with the states.
Aboriginal people are excluded from the vote, pensions, employment in post offices, enlistment in armed forces and maternity allowance.
September: The government introduces the white Australia policy, trying to ban all non-Caucasian people from entering the country.
Tasmanian Aboriginal woman Fanny Cochrane Smith is recorded singing in her native tongue, the first and only recording of Tasmania’s Aboriginal language.
The Queensland government establishes Cherbourg, an Aboriginal community, about 30 km from Gympie.
Torres Strait Islanders become subject to the Queensland Aboriginal Protection Act.
The Western Australia Aborigines Act is passed, making the Chief Protector the legal guardian of every Aboriginal and ‘half-caste’ child under 16 years old. Reserves are established, a local protector is appointed and rules governing Aboriginal employment are laid down.
The Invalid and Old Age Pensioner Act provides social security for some but not for Aboriginal people.
The NSW Aborigines Protection Act is introduced following crises in public schools.
Aboriginal schools are established in NSW. Exclusion of Aboriginal children from public schools followed requests by the white community. In NSW there are 22 Aboriginal schools in 1910, 35 in 1920 and 40 in 1940. The syllabus stresses manual activities and the teacher is usually the reserve manager’s untrained wife.
The Act also made it illegal for ‘half-castes’ to live on reserves. In 1915 and 1918 amendments to the Act give the NSW Aborigines Protection Board greater powers to remove children from their families for training as domestic servants.
First Aboriginal person to play First Grade Rugby League was George Green playing for Eastern Suburbs.
The Victorian Aborigines Act permitted the Board for Protection of Aborigines to help ‘half-castes’ by licensing needy persons to live on stations.
An inquiry is held into the Forest River Massacre in the Kimberley.
The Aborigines Protection Board Act is passed, giving the Board ‘legal’ control over Aboriginal people on stations and reserves but not missions, in the Northern Territory.
The South Australian Aborigines Act makes the Chief Protector the legal guardian of every Aboriginal and ‘half-caste’ child under 21 years old. The Chief Protector also has control of where the child lives. The Chief Protector is replaced by the Aborigines Protection Board in 1939 and guardianship power is repealed in 1962.
Federal government passes the Northern Territory Aboriginals Ordinance. The Chief Protector is made the legal guardian of every Aboriginal and ‘half-caste’ child under 18 years old. Any Aboriginal person can be forced onto a mission or settlement and children can be removed by force.
Maternity allowance is introduced but does not include Aboriginal people.
7 May: Roper River Aboriginal man Aya-I-Ga, known as Neighbour, is awarded the prestigious Albert Medal by King George V after he saved Constable W F Johns from drowning. It is the first time that a gallantry medal is awarded to an Aboriginal Australian.
How Aya-I-Ga saved the Constable
“The constable led his horse into the stream, and they set out. Mr Johns swam with his left hand, his right hand resting on the saddle of his horse.
Neighbour, with a chain around his neck that had been allowed to hang loose while the crossing was made, swam on the opposite side with
his left hand on the saddle.
In mid-stream the animal sank, and in going down kicked the constable in the head, knocking him semi-unconscious. The prisoner did not
hesitate. He went to his captor’s assistance, and soon got him to safety.”
It was an extraordinary act of courage considering how heavy Neighbour’s chain was, but nevertheless they continued their journey to the police station where Constable Johns said there was no evidence to charge Neighbour, and allowed him to go. The story made headlines nationwide,
and came to the attention of the British Parliament, which awarded him the medal. 
Beginning of WWI. Approximately 400 to 500 Aboriginal children continue to be removed from their families during the period 1914 to 1918, including children whose fathers are overseas at war.
Aboriginal people serve in the war despite the Defence Act 1909 which prohibits any person not of ‘substantially European’ origin from serving. Aboriginal soldiers are among Australian troops at Gallipoli.
The NSW Aborigines Protection Board is given powers to remove Aboriginal children without a court hearing. This power is repealed in 1940, when the Board is renamed the Aborigines Welfare Board.
The Northern Territory Aboriginal Ordinance Act "ensured that Aboriginal people could not drink or possess or supply alcohol or methylated spirits, could not come within two chains of licensed premises, have firearms, marry non-Aboriginal people without permission or have sex across the colour line" .
The Ordinance also forbids mining on Aboriginal Reserve Land.
Groote Eylandt, in the Gulf of Carpentaria, is named an Aboriginal Reserve. A number of missions have been established there.
Aboriginal population is estimated to be at its lowest at 60,000 - 70,000. It is widely believed to be a ‘dying race’. Most Australians have no contact with Aboriginal people due to segregation and social conventions.
The Church Missionary Society of the Church of England sets up a mission at Oenpelli, Central Australia. The Aboriginal community later run a water buffalo farm and sell X-ray style bark paintings.
April: Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association is formed in Sydney to oppose New South Wales Aborigines Protection Board. Its inaugural president is Fred Maynard.
Following the killing of a European in Dala, Western Australia, 11 Aboriginal people are murdered in police custody; no prosecutions follow.
Federal law for family endowment excludes Aboriginal people and instead payments go to Aborigines Protection Board. Aboriginal people are denied maternity allowance and old age pension.
Aboriginal people are banned from central Perth until 1948.
Conniston Massacre in the Northern Territory. Europeans shoot 32 Aboriginal people after a European dingo trapper and a station owner are attacked by them.
A court of inquiry rules the Europeans’ action ‘justified’. Aboriginal people are refused legal aid by the federal government.
Aboriginal activist and toymaker Anthony Martin Fernando (1864 - 1949) is picketing Australia House in London. Pinned to his coat
are scores of small, white, toy skeletons and he’s wearing a placard proclaiming: ‘This is all Australia has left of my people’.
Queensland Protector of Aborigines recommends to the federal government that Aboriginal people be assimilated where they are in contact with European society and that inviolable reserves be established for tribal people.
Aboriginal athlete Lynch Cooper is named World Professional Sprint Champion after winning the 1928 Stawell Gift and the 1929 World Sprint.
Victorian Yorta Yorta man William Cooper petitions the King to have an Aboriginal representative in the federal House of Representatives, the main chamber of the national Australian parliament. A similar attempt is made in NSW. They are unsuccessful.
Under the Aborigines Act, Aboriginal people can apply to ‘cease being Aboriginal’ and have access to the same rights as ‘whites’.
The Arnhem Land Reserve is declared.
The Methodist Overseas Mission establishes Yirrkala, an Aboriginal community on the Gove Peninsula, Northern Territory. It was later taken over by the United Church in North Australia.
The introduction of the Infants Welfare Act (Tasmania) is used to remove Indigenous children on Cape Barren Island from their families. From 1928 until 1980 the head teacher on Cape Barren is appointed as a special constable with the powers and responsibilities of a police constable, including the power to remove a child for neglect under child welfare legislation.
Western Australia Aborigines Act is amended to permit Aboriginal people to be taken into custody without trial or appeal and to prevent them from entering prescribed towns without a permit.
21-23 April: Aboriginal Welfare - Conference of Commonwealth and State Authorities called by the federal government, decides that the official policy for some Aboriginal people is assimilation policy. Aboriginal people of mixed descent are to be assimilated into white society whether they want to be or not, those not living tribally are to be educated and all others are to stay on reserves.
The minutes of the meeting say:
“The destiny of the natives of aboriginal origin, but not of the full blood, lies in their ultimate absorption… with a view to their taking their place in the white community on an equal footing with the whites.” 
In practice, assimilation policies lead to the destruction of Aboriginal identity and culture, justification of dispossession and the removal of Aboriginal children.
In 50 years we should forget that there were any Aborigines in this country.—A.O. Neville, Western Australian Chief Aboriginal Protector 
Segregationist practices continue until 1960s with separate sections in theatres, separate wards in hospitals, hotels refusing drinks and schools able to refuse enrolment to Aboriginal children.
The governments in the 1930s said children had to be taken away from their parents because the influence of their own communities was immoral and they were in danger of abuse and neglect, but the real agenda then was to de-Aboriginalise them.—Michael Anderson, Aboriginal leader 
27 June: In Dubbo, western NSW, trade unionist and Aboriginal politician William Ferguson launches the Aborigines Progressive Association, in opposition to the Aborigines Protection Board, after officials of the Board had arbitrarily used their powers to harass Aboriginal people.
The Presbyterian Church establishes a mission - Ernabella - in the Musgrave Ranges, South Australia.
26 January: 150 years after European occupation the Aboriginal Progressive Association declares a Day of Mourning. An Aboriginal conference is held in Sydney. These are the first of many Aboriginal protests against inequality, injustice, dispossession of land and protectionist policies.
A monthly newspaper, Australian Abo Call is published in Sydney, advocating equality of treatment and opportunity for Aboriginal people.
For the Europeans ‘celebration’ of 150 years of "settlement" in NSW, the government transports Aboriginal people from western communities to Sydney to take part in the re-enactment of the British landing on 26 January 1788. Aboriginal organisations in Sydney refused to participate.
The NSW government changes Aboriginal policy from ‘protection’ to assimilation following the 1937 conference.
December: Central Australian Aboriginal painter, Albert Namatjira, holds his first exhibition in Melbourne. All 41 works are sold in three days. He combines European painting techniques (mainly watercolors) with subject matter from his native land.
6 December: Aboriginal man William Cooper, in his 70s, leads a delegation of the Australian Aboriginal League to the German Consulate
in Melbourne to deliver a petition which condemns the ‘cruel persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi government of Germany’ .
4 February: The first-ever mass strike of Aboriginal people in Australia occurs, called the Cummeragunja Walk-off. Over 150 Aboriginal people pack-up and leave Cummeragunja Aboriginal Station in protest at the cruel treatment and exploitation of residents by the management. They walk 66kms and cross the border from New South Wales into Victoria in contravention of the rules of the New South Wales Protection Board. The opera Pecan Summer tells the story of the walk-off.
World War II begins. Although Aboriginal people are not recognised as citizens, two Aboriginal military units are established and some Aboriginal people serve in other sections of the armed forces as formally enlisted soldiers, sailors or airmen. Aboriginal people serve in Europe, the Middle East, the Pacific and New Guinea.
Aboriginal children continue to be removed from their families during the period 1939 to 1945, including children whose fathers are at war overseas.
The Aborigines Protection Board in South Australia is established.
As a result of the 1937 conference Queensland passes legislation allowing Aboriginal people to receive workers’ compensation.
Also as a result of this conference a Native Affairs Branch is set up in the Northern Territory.
The Queensland government establishes a leprosarium on Fantome Island (Eumilli Island) in the Great Palm Island group, about 65 km north-east of Townsville. Aboriginal patients are sent there to protect white people from catching the disease until 1973 when it is closed.
Amendments to the NSW Aborigines protection legislation results in the replacement of the Aborigines Protection Board with the NSW Aborigines Welfare Board. Responsibility for Aboriginal education is transferred to the Department for Education, which takes control of reserve buildings and starts to provide trained teachers.
In the 1940s most federal social security benefits are extended to Aboriginal people.
Increased mining developments in the 1940s in Western Australia bring protest from Aboriginal people concerned about their land. This lays the basis for the Pindan movement which was to grow from the 1946-49 Pilbara strike by
Aboriginal pastoral workers.
Discrimination against Aboriginal people begins to raise community disquiet. South Australian Premier Thomas Playford requests the Commonwealth government to pay maternity benefits and old age pension to Aboriginal people.
White Australia policy succeeds: 99% of Australia’s 7 million people are white.
Darwin is bombed by the Japanese. In Arnhem Land, Aboriginal people make up a special reconnaissance unit in defence of Australia. Northern Territory Aboriginal missions are evacuated. Many Aboriginal people evacuated after the bombing are transferred to ‘control camps’ in Victoria, South Australia or New South Wales and some never return. Restrictions are placed on Aboriginal movement, especially of women.
19-year old Len Waters becomes the first Aboriginal military pilot to be accepted into the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) . He is also the only Aboriginal fighter pilot to serve during World War II. Len left the air force in 1946 and died in 1993 aged 69. Streets in ACT and Sydney have been named after him.Len Waters Street in Ngunnawal, Australia Capital Territory.
The Methodist Church in North Australia sets up an Aboriginal mission on Elcho Island, Northern Territory.
A further amendment to the Aboriginal protection legislation in NSW gives two Aboriginal people - one ‘full-blood’ and one ‘half-caste’ - representation on the Aboriginal Welfare Board. Walter Page and William Ferguson, both Aboriginal Progressive Association members, take up the positions.
An Exemption Certificate is introduced, exempting certain Aboriginal people from restrictive legislation and entitling them to vote, drink alcohol and move freely but prohibiting them from consorting with others who are not exempt.
Aboriginal people use the derogatory terms ‘dog tags’ or ‘dog licences’ to refer to the certificates. For many Aboriginal people this renunciation of their traditional lifestyle is promoted as the only opportunity to overcome poverty, gain work and access to education and social welfare benefits.
Aboriginal cattle station workers in the Port Hedland district of Western Australia strike for a pay increase. They are getting 10 shillings a week and are supplied with blankets. Aboriginal people then form a co-operative to mine alluvial wolfram which was successful.
An investigation shows Aboriginal people on Lord Vestey’s Northern Territory cattle station are getting poor rations, inadequate housing, water and sanitation facilities and are paid less than the five shillings a day minimum wage, which was set for Aboriginal people in a 1918 ordinance. European males receive two pounds and eight shillings (equal to 48 shillings) a week in 1945.
Aboriginal children need a medical certificate to attend public schools.
Aboriginal pastoral workers initiate the Pilbara strike in Western Australia over pay, conditions and ill treatment.
The Commonwealth Citizenship and Nationality Act for the first time makes all Australians, including all Aboriginal people, Australian citizens. But at state level they still suffer legal discrimination.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is adopted by the newly-formed United Nations and supported by Australia.
Melbourne’s first Moomba festival is staged. Approached about naming the festival, Aboriginal people suggest “Moomba”, telling the officials it means “Let’s get together and have fun!” Actually meaning “up your bum” the name was adopted and is still used.
Aboriginal people are given the right to enrol and vote at federal elections provided they are entitled to enrol for state elections or have served in the armed forces.
The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide is ratified by Australia. It comes into force in 1951.
The portrait of Gwoya Jungarai (ca.1895-1965) of the Warlpiri people, Central Australia, appears on the 8 1/2 pence (8 1/2d) and two shillings and sixpence (2s.6d, issued 1952) definitive stamps. The stamps become widely known as “One Pound Jimmy” because when asked the price of his artefacts for sale he always replied “One Pound”.
The first formal schooling for Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory is provided. Lack of facilities is rationalised by the claim that children “beyond the age of 10 couldn’t keep up with white children anyway”.
Aboriginal children assimilate into NSW local schools, if all other parents agree. This right of veto is removed in 1960.
The federal government convenes the Australian Conference for Native Welfare, with all states and territories represented except Victoria and Tasmania, which claim to have no Aboriginal ‘problem’. The conference officially adopts a policy of ‘assimilation’ for Aboriginal people.
‘Assimilation means, in practical terms, that it is expected that all persons of Aboriginal birth or mixed blood in Australia will live like white Australians do.’ 
The Northern Territory Welfare Ordinance makes Aboriginal people wards of the government, basically making Aboriginal adults and children, minors.
Atomic tests are conducted on Maralinga lands at Emu Field, South Australia. They are code named Operation Totem. A black cloud passes and hundreds of families are forced to leave their homelands because of severe contamination. Further atom tests followed in 1956 at Maralinga, South Australia - Operation Buffalo.
10 years after the Australian government declared the clean-up of Maralinga as completed (in 2001) erosion continues to expose radioactive waste repositories.
The remarkable thing really, is how little [radioactive material] we buried.—Alan Parkinson, retired nuclear engineer 
Queen Elizabeth visits Australia for the first time and in Canberra signs the Aborigines Welfare Ordinance 1954 that permits the ethnic cleansing of the Australian Capital Territory, clearing it of resident Aboriginal people.
Atomic testing (Operation Antler) at Maralinga, South Australia. The presence of Aboriginal people on the test site is documented.
The Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders is set up. This group brings together a number of civil rights and Aboriginal welfare organisations. Its work plays a large part in bringing about the 1967 referendum.
Formation of the NADOC - National Aboriginal Day Observance Committee (later: NAIDOC, with the ‘I’ for ‘Islanders’).
Victorian Aborigines Welfare Board replaces the Board for the Protection of Aborigines. The Welfare Board is abolished in 1967.
In the Northern Territory the powers of the Chief Protector over Aboriginal children are repealed.
10 June: The Palm Island workforce demonstrates and strikes against unfair wages and apartheid. In response, the Queensland government dispatches 20 police to put the rebellion down. At gunpoint, 7 men and their families are shipped off the island in leg irons and transported to settlements on the mainland.
Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines is established. The title is changed in 1964 to Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.
Margaret Williams is the first Aboriginal university graduate with a diploma in physical education .
The Western Australian Department of Native Affairs ceases forcefully taking Aboriginal children from their parents and sending them to missions.
Aboriginal people become eligible for social service benefits.
At the Native Welfare Conference ministers agree to strategies to assist assimilation of Aboriginal people. These include the removal of discriminatory legislation and restrictive practices, the incorporation of Aboriginal people into the economy through welfare measures and education and training and the education of non-Aboriginal Australians about Aboriginal culture and history. After the conference, all states and territories amend their legislation.
The conference marks the beginning of a modern land rights movement and widespread awakening by non-Aboriginal Australians to claims for justice by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The South Australian Premier Sir Thomas Playford argues for integration rather than assimilation of Aboriginal people.
Aboriginal right to vote. A lot of Aboriginal people exercised their right to vote in the 2007 federal elections which kicked the Howard government out of parliament.
The Commonwealth Electoral Act is amended to give franchise to all Aboriginal people, extending the right to vote to Aboriginal people in Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory.
The Aboriginal Affairs Act in South Australia reconstitutes the Aborigines Protection Board and South Australian Department of Aboriginal Affairs. The Act also limits mining on reserves by non-Indigenous people.
Aboriginal people in Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory are given the right to vote in federal elections. Aboriginal people are not made to register but once they have voting is compulsory for them, as it is for every Australian. Compulsory enrolment is not required until 1984.
In NSW the prohibition on Aboriginal access to alcohol is removed.
July: The Yolngu people of Yirrkala in Australia’s Northern Territory (about 700 kms east of Darwin) sent a bark petition to the House of Representatives to protest against mining on the Gove Peninsula. On 28 August the petition is presented to the Governor General William De L’Isle. Although it is signed by more senior clan members, the federal government fails to recognise Aboriginal political structure and rejects the petition because of insufficient signatures.
November: Police evict residents at Mapoon, an Aboriginal community in far north Queensland. The people are forcibly taken to other reserves and their settlement is burned down, to allow Comalco mine the biggest bauxite deposit in the world.
Mining company BHP and the Church Missionary Society at Groote Eylandt, Northern Territory sign an agreement providing lump sum payments and royalties for use of land by BHP.
The Northern Territory Social Welfare Ordinance replaces the Welfare Ordinance, supposedly putting Aboriginal people on the same level as other Australians. But the Ward’s Employment Ordinance remains in force, leaving Aboriginal people on Christian missions and government settlements, about two-thirds of the Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, unequal in employment, wages, vocational training and housing.
Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) becomes the first Aboriginal Australian to publish a book of verse. She goes on to become one of the best known and most respected authors in Australia and overseas.
Integration policy is introduced, supposedly to give Aboriginal people more control over their lives and society.
Northern Territory patrol officers ‘bring in’ the last group of Aboriginal people - the Pintubi people - living independently in the desert. They are relocated to Papunya and Yuendumu, about 300 kms north-west of Alice Springs.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ Affairs Act, passed in Queensland, gives the Director of Aboriginal Affairs considerable power over ‘assisted Aborigines’. For example, an assisted Aboriginal person could be detained for up to a year for behaving in an ‘offensive, threatening, insolent, insulting, disorderly, obscene or indecent manner’ or ‘leaving, escaping or attempting to leave or escape from the reserve’.
The Northern Territory’s Supreme Court rejects the application by Frank Ganngu and Elsie Darbuma for the return of their three children, who were taken from the leprosarium at the Oenpelli mission (about 220 kms east of Darwin) and fostered out.
12 - 26 February: Charles Perkins leads a freedom ride by Aboriginal people and students through north-western New South Wales in support of Aboriginal rights. The ride demonstrates the extent of discrimination against Aboriginal people in country towns, including refusal of service in shops and segregated cinemas, swimming pools, hotels and clubs.
May: After entering in 1963, Charles Perkins becomes the first Aboriginal university graduate at University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Arts. He is also the first Aboriginal Australian to graduate from university.
Stockmen and women walk off Wave Hill cattle station owned by British aristocrat Lord Vestey, about 700 kms south of Darwin in the Northern Territory, in protest against intolerable working conditions and inadequate wages. They establish a camp at Watti Creek and demand the return of some of their traditional lands. This begins a seven-year fight by the Gurindji people to obtain title to their land.
The South Australian Prohibition of Discrimination Act is the first of its kind in Australia and bans all types of race and colour discrimination in employment, accommodation, legal contracts and public facilities.
The South Australian Lands Trust Act is the first legislation providing land ownership and compensation to dispossessed Aboriginal people. The Act set up a trust composed of Aboriginal people. It enabled them to obtain specific title to reserves, where reserves existed.
Margaret Valadian becomes the first Aboriginal university graduates at Queensland University. She goes on to also become the first postgraduate student.
South Australia passes an Aboriginal Lands Trust Bill and the Prohibition of Discrimination Bill, the first state act prohibiting discrimination on grounds of race, colour or country of origin.
The Conciliation and Arbitration Commission finds in favour of an application from the North Australian Workers’ Union for award wages for Aboriginal pastoral workers. The cattle industry reacts by phasing out Aboriginal labour and progressively evicting Aboriginal communities off the properties which are their traditional lands.
In the Commonwealth 1967 Referendum more than 90% vote to empower the Commonwealth to legislate for all Aboriginal people and open means for them to be counted in the census. Hopes fly high that constitutional discrimination will end. It also empowers the federal government to legislate for Aboriginal people in the states and share responsibility for Aboriginal affairs with state governments. All states except Queensland abandon laws and policies that discriminate against Aboriginal people. The first census fully including Aboriginal people is in 1971.
The Gurindji people petition the Governor General for 1,295 square kilometres of their land to be excised from the Wave Hill pastoral lease.
Nabalco and the federal government sign an agreement giving Nabalco a 42-year special lease to mine bauxite near Yirrkala in the Arnhem Land reserve.
Desecration of the Weebo sacred site in central Western Australia through pegging of mineral claims eventually leads to the Western Australian Heritage Act being proclaimed in 1972.
The Commonwealth Office of Aboriginal Affairs is established and in 1972 becomes the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.
Lionel Rose beats bantamweight ‘Fighting’ Harada in Tokyo to become the first Aboriginal world boxing champion. He goes on to receive the Australian of the Year award the same year. ⇒ Famous Aboriginal people
First Aboriginal debutante ball at Sydney Town Hall. Prime Minister John Gorton was one of the guests.
Aborigines Welfare Board in NSW is abolished. By 1969 all states have repealed the legislation allowing for the removal of Aboriginal children under the policy of ‘protection’. In the following years, Aboriginal and Islander Child Care Agencies (AICCAs) are set up to contest removal applications and provide alternatives to the removal of Indigenous children from their families.
Aborigines Advisory Council set up.
The federal government establishes the National Aboriginal Sports Foundation to help finance sports activities.
An Aboriginal delegation goes to New York and presents a statement on Australian Aborigines to the office of the UN Secretary-General.
New South Wales Aboriginal Welfare Board is abolished.