1920 – 1930
Before the 1920s, Aboriginal rights groups boycotted Australia Day (26 January) in protest against the status and treatment of Indigenous Australians at the time. In the 1920s, when Aborigines Protection Policies were rife, these groups 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, Yorta Yorta activist and founder of the AAL, William Cooper, 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.
Source: Audio Visual Archive, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra
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 yet happened, other groups have echoed the call.
1991 – Present
Source: Event Photos Australia
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.
Currently John Paul Janke and Patricia Thompson co-chair the committee.
For decades, NAIDOC has had significant themes to represent, celebrate and raise awareness to significant Indigenous affairs. This year the theme is Always Was, Always Will Be.
Due to COVID-19, The NAIDOC Council has also announced a new date for the annual celebration to protect the health and safety of communities and their elders from the potential risk of serious virus.
November 8th-15th will be the official 2020 celebration week.
The poster winner was Proud Noongar and Saibai Island man, Tyrown Waigana, took home the prize with his design depicting the Rainbow Serpent coming out of Dreamtime while addressing this year's theme 'Always Was, Always Will Be'.
“The Rainbow Serpent is represented by the snake and it forms the shape of Australia, which symbolises how it created our lands." The young artist explains. "The colour from the Rainbow Serpent is reflected on to the figure to display our connection to the Rainbow Serpent, thus our connection to country. The overlapping colours on the outside is the Dreamtime.”
“The figure inside the shape of Australia is a representation of Indigenous Australians showing that this country - since the dawn of time - always was, and always will be Aboriginal land,” Mr Waigana added.
Past National NAIDOC themes and host cities:
- 2019 Voice. Treaty. Truth. (Canberra)
2018 Because of her, we can! (Sydney)
- 2017 Our Languages Matter (Cairns)
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?
Teachers, find curriculum-aligned resources that explore Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander perspectives, histories, and stories with SBS Learn, the official education partner of NAIDOC Week. Celebrate the 2020 theme ‘Always Was, Always Will Be’ in your classroom with SBS Learn’s teacher resource.