Aboriginal timeline: Land & land rights

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1836

  1. 19 February

    King William IV recognises the continued rights to land for Aboriginal people in South Australia’s founding document, the Letters Patent. It was the first ever recognition of Aboriginal rights granted in Australia’s colonial history. But the promise of legal entitlement to the land was never kept.

1961

  1. 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.

1963

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

1966

  1. 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.

  2. 8 December

    The South Australian Lands Trust Act is the first-ever Act in Australia to recognise Aboriginal land rights and provide 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.

1967

  1. The Gurindji people petition the Governor General for 1,295 square kilometres of their land to be excised from the Wave Hill pastoral lease.

1968

  1. 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.

1970

  1. Some people from Maningrida in the Northern Territory returned to a preferred traditional way of life on their home estates. These estates were called ‘outstations’ and later ‘homeland centres’. By 1972 many people had moved back to their traditional homelands.

  2. Limited land lease rights are given to Aboriginal people on Northern Territory reserves.

1971

  1. Gumatj Elders Millrrpum and others take on Nabalco Pty Ltd and the federal government in the Gove land rights case following on from the Bark Petition. The Northern Territory Supreme Court ruled that Aboriginal people did not, under Australian law own the Arnhem Land reserve. This meant Nabalco could mine bauxite from the land.

  2. Larrakia people ‘sit-in’ at Bagot Road, Darwin as a protest against theft of their land.

1972

  1. January

    Aboriginal activists pitch an Aboriginal Tent Embassy outside Parliament House in Canberra, demonstrating for land rights.

  2. October

    1,000 Aboriginal people sign the Larrakia petition, one of the most important documents in the history of their struggle for land rights. Headed Gwalwa Daraniki, which means ‘our land’ in the language of the Larrakia people (the traditional owners of the Darwin area in the NT), the Larrakia petition called for land rights and political representation for the Aboriginal people of Australia.

  3. December

    The Whitlam government freezes all applications for mining and exploration on Commonwealth Aboriginal reserves.

1973

  1. Mr Justice Woodward of the Aboriginal Land Commission delivers his first report, showing the way for a new approach to Aboriginal land rights.

  2. The NSW Aboriginal Land Trust is set up to receive freehold ownership of former Aboriginal reserves.

1974

  1. Second Report of the Aboriginal Land Commission (The Woodward Report) is tabled, acknowledging Aboriginal people’s link with the land; ‘to deny Aborigines the right to prevent mining on their land is to deny the reality of their land rights’. His report is accepted in principle by all political parties and most states.

  2. A Commonwealth Act establishes the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission to buy land for Aboriginal corporate groups. Since then many properties have been acquired throughout Australia. The fund was replaced by the ADC (Aboriginal Development Council) in 1980.

Harvard citation

Korff, J 2019, Aboriginal timeline: Land & land rights, <https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/history/australian-aboriginal-history-timeline/landrights>, retrieved 24 February 2019

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