• Djakapurra and the Bungalow Dancers at a NAIDOC festival concert in Yirrkala. (AAP)
As we celebrate another annual NAIDOC Week, let's take a moment to look at the steps taken to get us where we are today.
By
NITV Staff Writer

30 Jun 2016 - 4:41 PM  UPDATED 28 Jun 2017 - 11:24 AM

1920 – 1930

Before the 1920s, Aboriginal rights groups boycotted Australia Day (26 January) in protest against the status and treatment of Indigenous Australians. By the 1920s, they were increasingly aware that the broader Australian public were largely ignorant of the boycotts. If the movement were to make progress, it would need to be active.

Several organisations emerged to fill this role, particularly the Australian Aborigines Progressive Association (AAPA) in 1924 and the Australian Aborigines League (AAL) in 1932. Their efforts were largely overlooked, and due to police harassment, the AAPA abandoned their work in 1927.

In 1935, William Cooper, founder of the AAL, drafted a petition to send to King George V, asking for special Aboriginal electorates in Federal Parliament. The Australian Government believed that the petition fell outside its constitutional responsibilities.

1938

On Australia Day, 1938, protestors marched through the streets of Sydney, followed by a congress attended by over a thousand people. One of the first major civil rights gatherings in the world, it was known as the Day of Mourning.

Following the congress, a deputation led by William Cooper presented Prime Minister Joseph Lyons with a proposed national policy for Aboriginal people. This was again rejected because the Government did not hold constitutional powers in relation to Aboriginal people.

After the Day of Mourning, there was a growing feeling that it should be a regular event. In 1939 William Cooper wrote to the National Missionary Council of Australia to seek their assistance in supporting and promoting an annual event.

1940 – 1955

From 1940 until 1955, the Day of Mourning was held annually on the Sunday before Australia Day and was known as Aborigines Day. In 1955 Aborigines Day was shifted to the first Sunday in July after it was decided the day should become not simply a protest day but also a celebration of Aboriginal culture.

1956 – 1990

Major Aboriginal organisations, state and federal governments, and a number of church groups all supported the formation of, the National Aborigines Day Observance Committee (NADOC). At the same time, the second Sunday in July became a day of remembrance for Aboriginal people and their heritage.

In 1972, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs was formed, as a major outcome of the 1967 referendum.

In 1974, the NADOC committee was composed entirely of Aboriginal members for the first time. The following year, it was decided that the event should cover a week, from the first to second Sunday in July.

In 1984, NADOC asked that National Aborigines Day be made a national public holiday, to help celebrate and recognise the rich cultural history that makes Australia unique. While this has not happened, other groups have echoed the call.

1991 – Present

With a growing awareness of the distinct cultural histories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, NADOC was expanded to recognise Torres Strait Islander people and culture. The committee then became known as the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC). This new name has become the title for the whole week, not just the day. Each year, a theme is chosen to reflect the important issues and events for NAIDOC Week.

During the mid-1990s, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) took over the management of NAIDOC until ATSIC was disbanded in 2004-05.

There were interim arrangements in 2005. Since then a National NAIDOC Committee, until recently chaired by former Senator Aden Ridgeway, has made key decisions on national celebrations each year. The National NAIDOC Committee has representatives from most Australian states and territories.

Since 2008, Anne Martin and Ben Mitchell have been serving as co-chairs of the National NAIDOC Committee.

2017

For decades, NAIDOC has had significant themes to represent, celebrate and raise awareness to significant Indigenous affairs. This year the focus is on the importance, resilience and richness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, as the theme is: Our Languages Matter.

Our Languages Matter  aims to emphasise and celebrate the unique and essential role that Indigenous languages play in cultural identity, linking people to their land and water and in the transmission of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, spirituality and rites, through story and song.

Some 250 distinct Indigenous language groups covered the continent at first (significant) European contact in the late eighteenth century. Most of these languages would have had several dialects, so that the total number of named varieties would have run to many hundreds.

Today only around 120 of those languages are still spoken, with only 20 being passed on to the next generation. Many of them are at risk of being lost as Elders pass on.

Past National NAIDOC themes and host cities:

  • 2016 Songlines: The living narrative of our nation (Darwin)

  • 2015 We all Stand on Sacred Ground: Learn Respect & Celebrate (Adelaide)

  • 2014 Serving Country: Centenary & Beyond (Gold Coast)

  • 2013 We value the vision: Yirrkala Bark Petitions 1963 (Perth)

  • 2012 Spirit of the Tent Embassy: 40 years on (Hobart)

  • 2011 Change: the next step is ours (Sydney)

  • 2010 Unsung Heroes – Closing the Gap by Leading Their Way (Melbourne)

  • 2009 Honouring Our Elders, Nurturing Our Youth (Brisbane)

  • 2008 Advance Australia Fair? (Canberra)

  • 2007 50 Years: Looking Forward, Looking Blak (Darwin)

  • 2006 Respect the Past-Believe in the Future (Cairns)

  • 2005 Our Future Begins with Solidarity (Adelaide)

  • 2004 Self-determination-Our Community-Our Future-Our Responsibility (Perth)

  • 2003 Our Children Our Future (Hobart)

  • 2002 Recognition, Rights and Reform (Sydney)

  • 2001 Treaty-Let’s Get it Right (Melbourne)

  • 2000 Building Pride in Our Communities (Townsville)

  • 1999 Respect (Alice Springs)

  • 1998 Bringing Them Home (Broome)

  • 1997 Gurindji, Mabo, Wik-Three Strikes for Justice-Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the 1967 Referendum (Brisbane)

  • 1996 Survive-Revive-Come Alive (Adelaide)

  • 1995 Justice Not Tolerance (Perth)

  • 1994 Families Are the Basis of Our Existence-Maintain the Link (Melbourne)

  • 1993 Aboriginal Nations-Owners of the Land Since Time Began-Community is Unity (Darwin)

  • 1992 Maintain the Dreaming-Our Culture is Our Heritage (Canberra)

  • 1991 Community is Unity-Our Future Depends on Us (Sydney)

  • 1990 New Decade-Don’t Destroy, Learn and Enjoy Our Cultural Heritage (Tasmania)

  • 1989 The Party is Over-Let’s Be Together as an Aboriginal Nation (Darwin)

  • 1988 Recognise and Share the Survival of the Oldest Culture in the World (Brisbane)

  • 1987 White Australia Has a Black History (Perth)

  • 1986 Peace-Not For You-Not For Me But For All (Adelaide)

  • 1985 Understanding: It Takes the Two of Us (Melbourne)

  • 1984 Take a Journey of Discovery – To the Land My Mother (Adelaide)

  • 1983 Let’s Talk-We Have Something to Say

  • 1982 Race For Life For a Race

  • 1981 Sacred Sites Aboriginal Rights-Other Australians Have Their Rites

  • 1980 Treat Us to a Treaty on Land Rights

  • 1979 1979 International Year of the Child. What About Our Kids!

  • 1978 Cultural Revival is Survival

  • 1977 Chains or Change

  • 1976 Trucanini Last of her People Born 18?? Died 1876. Buried 1976. Received Her Land Rights at Last

  • 1975 Justice for Urban Aboriginal Children

  • 1974 Self Determination

  • 1973 It’s Time For Mutual Understanding

  • 1972 Advance Australia Where?

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