• Celebrate this year's NAIDOC theme by looking back at these significant events. (NITV)Source: NITV
Reflecting on this year's NAIDOC theme — Get Up, Stand Up, Show Up — we reflect on some significant moments where our people have shifted history by fighting for their community.
Alexis Moran

20 Jun 2022 - 5:25 PM  UPDATED 20 Jun 2022 - 5:25 PM

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people always stand up. It's nothing new to our communities. Since colonisation, Indigenous people have fought against oppression. 

And that continues every day — whether it be on January 26, to march against deaths in custody and other wrongdoing, or just to speak up for what we believe in and what's right.

It’s because of this activism — getting up, standing up and showing up — that history can and has been changed.

Here are just seven significant moments where that happened.

1. Frontier Wars

Frontier wars and massacres happened across the country. And the conflicts occurred since 1788. 

Some of our resistance warriors from those earlier days included Pemulwuy, once described as a “most active enemy” to British settlers, who led the battle of Parramatta. 

Pemulwuy and other Indigenous heroes now in HSC mix
One of Australia’s most feared but largely unknown resistance fighters, Pemulwuy, could soon have his legacy taught in schools throughout New South Wales.

There’s Dundali, a leader and senior lawman from South East Queensland who carried out attacks on British colonialists. He was hanged in 1855. It was the last official public execution in Queensland.

Or Yagan, who was born into the Whadjuk group of Noongar people. To this day he is a legendary symbol of resistance. He was murdered by settlers in 1833 and his head was removed and sent to England.

It's because of male and female warriors like these and many, many others that our people survived the frontier wars.

2.  Land Rights: Mabo and Wik vs. Queensland

The 10-year battle for Eddie Koiki Mabo was a landmark case that recognised the land rights of the Meriam people of the Torres Strait.

On June 3, 1992, the High Court decision recognised the continuous connection to Country for all Indigenous people and gave rise to Native Title legislation, rejecting that Australia was “terra nullius”, or 'nobody's land'.

After the Mabo decision was handed down, the Wik People of Cape York Peninsula and the Thayorre People of South Cape York Peninsula sought Native Title for their homelands.

Their case went to the High Court where they claimed Native Title should co-exist with a pastoral lease.

On December 23, 1996, the High Court determined that pastoralists did not have exclusive rights to the land and the Wik and Thayorre people were granted Native Title too. 

3. Deaths in Custody

After years of a national protest movement to ‘stop Blak deaths in custody’, on August 10, 1987 a royal commission was announced to examine all deaths in custody in each state and territory which occurred between January 1, 1980 and May 31, 1989, along with the actions taken in respect of each death.

There were 99 deaths investigated and the Inquiry made 339 recommendations. 

Decades later, our people continue to die in custody across the country and mob continue to protest. 

After the passing of Yorta Yorta woman Aunty Tanya Day in 2017, her daughter Apryl founded the Dhadjowa Foundation.

Dhadjowa is a national grassroots organisation that was "established to provide strategic, coordinated and culturally appropriate support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families whose loved ones have died in custody."

Because of years of advocacy by the Day family, the Victorian government will decriminalise public drunkenness, with the laws set to be repealed in November.

Children of Tanya Day receive human rights award
The award recognises the Day family's sustained advocacy to decriminalise public drunkenness in Victoria following the death in custody of their mother in 2017.

4. Sports

Indigenous athletes in the public eye have continually called out racism over the years. 

Adam Goodes called out a racial slur targeted at him during an AFL match in 2013. Similarly, when Nicky Winmara lifted his jersey and pointed at his skin, shouting, "I’m Blak and I’m proud to be Blak".

Or Cathy Freeman carrying the Aboriginal flag during her 2000 Olympic Games victory, at the time the Aboriginal flag was not recognised as an official Australian flag.

In recent times, NRL star Latrell Mitchell continually calls out racist trolls online and then speaks up staunchly against the garbage he is subjected to.

'Time can't heal racism': Betts defends Goodes' Hall of Fame rejection
The Carlton legend, who has also been a constant target of vile racist abuse, has backed Goodes' decision to brush prestigious accolade.

5. Establishing essential First Nations services

Because of grassroots activism in Redfern, some of our essential services exist today. 

The Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) was established in 1970 in the inner-Sydney suburb and was Australia's first-ever free legal service, providing pro-bono help for the local Indigenous community.

The organisation came about after the mobilisation of a group of activists that included Paul and Isabel Coe, Gary Foley, Billy and Lyn Craigie, Gary Williams, Bronwyn Penrith, Tony Coorey, and James Wedge who “started monitoring and recording the everyday experience of police brutality and harassment."

A year later in 1971, the Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS) was also created and became the first Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service in Australia.

Many of these same activists were involved as well as Bob and Sol Bellear, Naomi Mayers, Dulcie Flowers, Colleen Shirley 'Mum Shirl' Perry Smith, and many others.

6. Aboriginal Tent Embassy

The Aboriginal Tent Embassy was established on the lawn of Old Parliament House on January 26, 1972.

It became a major event in the protest movement for the lack of land rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

The Embassy still stands strong in the same place today and has recently celebrated 50 years of resistance.

It is the longest-running Indigenous land rights protest in the world.

7. Koori Mail during the NSW Floods

After catastrophic floodwaters ravaged Lismore, the Koori Mail launched a full-scale operation and recovery centre to help their Bundjalung community. 

Locals who had their entire homes filled with water needed essential supplies like food, cleaning products, clothing and camping gear.

And the Koori Mail recovery centre, along with an online fundraising campaign set up by the newspaper, was there to help. 

A wonderful example of Blackfullas coming together to support in their time of need.

This years' NAIDOC theme is Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up! Recognising the fight and resilience Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue in pursuit of First Nations' rights. 

NAIDOC Week is a national celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, history and culture, and runs from 3-10 July. SBS & NITV are the official national NAIDOC media partner.

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