Aboriginal timeline: Recognition

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  1. Wiradjuri men Yarri and Jacky Jacky (later known as James McDonnell and John Morley) use large bark canoes to save 68 settlers when the a record flood of the Murrumbidgee River inundates the NSW Riverina town of Gundagai. 89 locals died in the floods. In 2018 both men receive posthumous bravery medals for their actions and the town honours them with a large bronze statue.


  1. 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.


  1. A railway track laying crew of mostly Torres Strait Islander workers breaks the world record for laying the greatest length of railway in a single day. Despite temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius, the crew lays 7 kilometres of railway track for the Mount Newman to Port Hedland line (Western Australia), fully spiked and anchored, in 11 hours and 40 minutes.


  1. NASA launches spacecraft Voyager 2 (on 20 August) and Voyager 1 (on 5 September), each carrying a golden record with examples of the aural heritage of Earth as music, sounds and verbal greetings. The music section includes an 86-second recording of Senior Yolgnu men Mudpo, Djawa (Tom) and Waliparu singing 'Morning Star' (about the Barnumbirr morning star ceremonies) and 'Mokoi' (about the malicious spirits, morkoi, who try to lure souls away from Country).


  1. The first Aboriginal parliamentarian, Neville Bonner, receives the Australian of the Year award. Famous Aboriginal people


  1. Ken Colbung, a Nyoongar Aboriginal activist from Western Australia, receives the Order of Australia Medal for his services to the Aboriginal community. Ken was heavily involved in Aboriginal politics and the main architect of the Aboriginal Heritage Protection Act which came into force in 1972.


  1. Lowitja O’Donoghue, a pioneering nurse and future Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) chairperson, receives the Australian of the Year award. Famous Aboriginal people


  1. Mandawuy Yunupingu, leader of the Aboriginal band Yothu Yindi, receives the Australian of the Year award. Famous Aboriginal people


  1. The UN’s General Assembly marks this day as the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People.


  1. For the first time in government history Aboriginal people perform a Welcome to Country as the federal parliament opens after the break.

  2. Patrick Dodson is the second Australian to receive Australia’s only international peace prize, the Sydney 2008 Peace Prize.

  3. The Canberra suburb of Bonner names public places and roads after prominent Aboriginal leaders and their supporters. The suburb itself was named after Neville Bonner, the first Aboriginal person to sit in federal parliament as a Senator for Queensland from 1971 to 1983.

  4. In his swearing-in speech, High Court Chief Justice Robert French acknowledges the Ngunnawal people present as the ‘traditional people’ of the area and pays tribute to Aboriginal culture and history. It is believed to be the first time such comments came from Australia’s highest legal seat.


  1. Aboriginal law professor Mick Dodson receives the 2009 Australian of the Year award for his lifetime commitment to improving the lives of Aboriginal people and helping to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.


  1. The Queensland Parliament amends the Constitution of Queensland to include a preamble recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians. The preamble now reads: “The people of Queensland, free and equal citizens of Australia… honour the Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the First Australians, whose lands, winds and waters we all now share; and pay tribute to their unique values, and their ancient and enduring cultures, which deepen and enrich the life of our community…”

  2. NSW becomes the third Australian state, after Victoria and Queensland, to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in their Constitutional preambles. The Aboriginal flag is also permanently hung in the NSW Parliament.

    We are enshrining today fundamental truths, the truth that Aboriginal people are the first peoples of NSW, the truth of the spiritual, economic and cultural ties that bind Aboriginal people to the land.

    — Kristina Keneally, Premier of NSW
  3. Aboriginal author and lawyer Larissa Behrendt is named NSW Australian of the Year in “recognition of her passionate and articulate advocacy for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders”.


  1. Western Australia renames the Foundation Day public holiday (first Monday in June) as Western Australia Day, for the first time in legislation recognising Aboriginal people as the original inhabitants and traditional custodians of Western Australia.


  1. The Australian Parliament passes with bi-partisan support the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012 which recognises the unique and special place of Aboriginal people and sets out a review process to progress the route to a referendum.


  1. Actress Rosalie Kunoth-Monks is named the NT Australian of the Year for 2015. She played the lead role in the film Jedda in 1953 at age 17.


View article sources (5)

[1] 'Medal handed back to brave man's family', Koori Mail 501 p.9
[2] 'Golden record', AIATSIS newsletter 30/11/2021
[3] 'Voyager Golden Record', Wikipedia, retrieved 5/12/2021, available at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voyager_Golden_Record
[4] 'WA mourns loss of Elder', Koori Mail 468 p.14
[5] 'Changes recognise the First Peoples', Koori Mail 485 p.9

Cite this page

Korff, J 2024, Aboriginal timeline: Recognition, <https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/history/australian-aboriginal-history-timeline/recognition?page=1&//&///>, retrieved 25 July 2024

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