Aboriginal history Pre 1700

100,000 years ago – Evidence of Aboriginal people living on the Australian continent and of the world’s earliest human art. (French cave painting 5,000 years ago, the Mona Lisa, 14th century)

Chinese sailors visit near Darwin (NT), evidence of 15th Century Ming statuette found.

Dutch documents record the journeys of Macassan trepangers (Indigenous traders from Indonesia) to ‘Marege’, as the Macassans call Australia.

Macassan praus sail to the north eastern coast of the Northern Territory. Trade between Aboriginal people and the Macassans continues until it is stopped by the South Australian government in 1906.

Bone tool deposits at Otway Peninsula, Victoria suggest Aboriginal people were working with animal skins.

Dutchman Willem Jansz and the people on his ship Duyfken explore the western coast of Cape York Peninsula, the first Europeans to have contact with Australian Aboriginal people. The two groups clashed.

The oldest dated rock painting is believed to come from the 1620s. The rock painting depicts a sailing boat and is proof of Aboriginal people’s early contact, possibly with Macassars from Indonesia fishing for trepang [1].

Dutchman Jan Carstenz described several armed encounters with Aboriginal people on the northern coast of Australia. Shots were fired and an Aboriginal man was hit.

Dutch explorer Abel Tasman named Australian mainland New Holland.

William Dampier (England) becomes the first Englishman to set foot on the west coast of Australia.

1700- 1799

April  – Captain James Cook claims possession of the whole east coast of Australia for the British Crown on Possession Island, a small island in the Torres Strait Islands. Many history classes and books start teaching Australian history from this point on.

July  – The Guugu Yimithirr people and Captain James Cook clash over a dozen sea turtles that Cook’s party caught for food near present-day Cooktown. Later, an Elder approaches Cook, offering a broken spear as a gesture of reconciliation and the two parties settle their dispute. The National Trust of Australia nominated the event as Australia’s first documented act of reconciliation. Because the area where the two parties met is rocky it is now known as Reconciliation Rocks.

18 January – armed tender, HMS Supply arrives at Botany Bay just ahead of the First Fleet (Alexander, Friendship, Scarborough) the following day.

26 January – Captain Arthur Phillip RN, raised the British flag at Sydney Cove to cliam New South Wales as a British Colony (not a nation) beginning a long and brutal colonisation of people and land.

May – Conflict The first conflict between the First Fleet arrivals and Aboriginal people takes place near Rushcutters Bay, Sydney. Two convicts are killed.

December – Arabanoo is the first Aboriginal person captured by Europeans.

A catastrophic smallpox epidemic decimates the Eora Aboriginal people of Port Jackson, Botany Bay and Broken Bay.

The Hawkesbury and Nepean Wars between Aboriginal people and white invaders start in NSW. Led by Pemulwuy and his son Tedbury, Aboriginal people raid stations or assault sheep and cattle because the growing number of colonists occupied more and more land. Many times they used firesticks to set the bush on fire, destroy buildings, and burn crops. The guerrilla-like wars continue until 1816.

The Richmond Hill battle is considered to be the first recorded battle between Aboriginal people defending their country against the British.

Beginning of a six-year period of resistance to white settlement by Aboriginal people in the Hawkesbury and Parramatta areas. Known as the ‘Black Wars’.

1800-1849

  •  Governor King orders Aboriginal people gathering around Parramatta, Georges River and Prospect Hill “to be driven back from the settler’s habitation by firing at them”.
  •  Lt James Grant (Lady Nelson ship) sails through Bass Strait.

  • Bungaree (Bungary) is the first Aboriginal person to circumnavigate Australia as a member of Matthew Flinders’ historic journey of exploration (1802-03). Bungaree is one of the very few Aboriginal people whose exploits have been documented in newspapers, journals and books of early colonial Sydney. Bungaree died in 1830 and was buried at Rose Bay, NSW.
  • Lieutenant John Murray’s first discovery of Port Phillip

  • Tasmania is occupied by white people. The Black Wars of Tasmania last until 1830 and claim the lives of 600 Aboriginal people and more than 200 white settlers.
  • William Buckley escapes from Capt. Collins temporary settlement at Sorrento & walks around Port Phillip bay. Later he is invited to join the Mon:mart clan of Wathaurong people when Kondiak:ruk (Swan Wing) declares him her husband returned from the dead. Aboriginal people believed that the dead were reincarnated in a white form. They call Buckley Morran:gurk (Ghost blood).

Hostilities increase – the slaughter of Aboriginal people in Australia has begun. Settlers are authorised to shoot unarmed Aboriginal people. [2]

Aboriginal people begin to be moved onto mission stations where they can be taught European beliefs and used as cheap labour. Settlers try to control growth of the Aboriginal population with a policy of absorption.

Governor Macquarie opens a school for Aboriginal children at Parramatta called the ‘Native Institution’ to “civilise, educate and foster habits of industry and decency in the Aborigines”. The local Aboriginal people remove their children from the school after they realise that its aim is to distance the children from their families and communities. The school closes in 1820.

  •  Macquarie announces a set of regulations controlling the movement of Aboriginal people. No Aboriginal person is to appear armed within a mile of any settlement and no more than six Aboriginal people are allowed to ‘lurk or loiter near farms’.
  • Passports or certificates are issued to Aboriginal people “who conduct themselves in a suitable manner”, to show they are officially accepted by Europeans.

Martial law is proclaimed in Tasmania and Bathurst. Soldiers have the right to arrest or shoot any Aboriginal person found in the settled districts.

John Batman and Joseph Gellibrand apply to the colonial government for Kulin nation land.

  • Aboriginal people in Tasmania are forcibly removed and settled on Flinders Island. The living conditions lead to many deaths. Later the community is moved to Cape Barren Island.
  • Port Phillip District Wars rage in Victoria (then administered by New South Wales and known as Port Phillip district) from 1830 to 1850. The Indigenous Koorie population resists the large influx of immigrants and settlers who bring large herds of sheep and cattle into the state.

1850-1899

‘Landholders’ complain of Aboriginal Protectorates & stations taking up ‘good land’ & attracting Aboriginal people ‘near our properties’.

A ‘secret’ Geelong pamphlet is published in The Argus that admits complicity in dispossession of Aboriginals from their lands and debates what is to be done.

  • Wathaurong people compete for the first time in the second Highland Games in Geelong.
  • A Select Committee of the Legislative Council of Victoria is appointed to enquire into the living conditions of Aborigines. It blames Aborigines for their plight and recommends reserves to protect, constrain and control them. Finds population of indigenes declined by 50% in last decade.

Victorian government (Land & Survey Office) announces a Central Board & District Committees for the Protection of the Aborigines of Victoria.

  • Colonial government gazettes one acre of land for Geelong Aboriginal people (the Duneed Reserve’, Ghazeepore Rd, Waurn Ponds) where 6 surviving people live.
  • Colonial government census of Aboriginal people living in the Geelong region shows only 7 Wathaurong left in the region.

‘Queen Eliza’ wife of Dan Dan Nook dies & is buried at Portarlington.

An an all-Aboriginal cricket team of men from lands of western Victoria embarks on a tour of England, backed by private financiers.

  • Parliament enacts an inhumane Act for the Protection & Management of the Victorian Aboriginals (the Mission Act). It restricts the rights of Aboriginal people to control where they lived & worked & whom they married. This is the beginning of legislation that produces the Stolen generations. It also forces Aborigines of fair complexion off reserves. Some reserves are broken up & land sold.
  • Victorian Board for the Protection of Aborigines is established. The Governor can order the removal of any child to a reformatory or industrial school. The Protection Board can remove children from station families to be housed in dormitories.

Dan Dan Nook once the fastest runner in Geelong (Djillong) dies in the Geelong Invalid Asylum of tuberculosis.

The Victorian Aborigines Protection Act denies human rights as it increases control measures including empowering the Victorian Board for the Protection of Aborigines to apprentice Aboriginal children at 13 & enabling them to require children to seek their permission to visit their families.

1900-1949

  • Aboriginal people are excluded from the vote, pensions, employment in post offices, enlistment in armed forces and maternity allowance.
  • Federation – The Commonwealth Constitution states “in reckoning the numbers of people… Aboriginal natives shall not be counted”. It also states that the Commonwealth would legislate for any race except Aboriginal people. This leaves the power over Aboriginal Affairs with the states.
  • The government introduces the white Australia policy, trying to ban all non-Caucasian people from entering the country.

  • During the Boer War about 50 Aboriginal trackers are summonsed by the British forces in South Africa to join the war to locate Boer fighters. When Australian forces withdraw later that year, the trackers are thought to have been left behind.
  • The Commonwealth Parliament passes the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 which grants men and women in all states the right to vote in federal elections, but denies it to every ‘aboriginal native’ of Australia, Asia, Africa, or the Islands of the Pacific (if they not already had the right to vote in state elections at the time of the Act).

  • The Invalid and Old Age Pensioner Act provides social security for some but not for Aboriginal people.
  • The United Aborigines Mission establishes the Bomaderry Aboriginal Children’s Home in Nowra, NSW, after several orphaned children come into the care of the mission. The home is often referred to as the ‘birthplace’ of the Stolen Generations in New South Wales. Up to 47 children live at the home. It closes in 1988.

The Victorian Aborigines Act permitted the Board for Protection of Aborigines to help ‘half-castes’ by licensing needy persons to live on stations.

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]

Beginning of WWI. Approximately 400 to 500 Aboriginal children continue to be removed from their families during the period 1914 to 1918, including children whose fathers are overseas at war. Aboriginal people serve in the war despite the Defence Act 1909 which prohibits any person not of ‘substantially European’ origin from serving. Aboriginal soldiers are among Australian troops at Gallipoli.

Australian Aborigines Progressive Association formed.

Victorian Yorta Yorta man William Cooper petitions the King to have an Aboriginal representative in the federal House of Representatives, the main chamber of the national Australian parliament. A similar attempt is made in NSW. They are unsuccessful.

Australian Aborigines League is established in Melbourne.

The Arnhem Land Reserve is declared.

1950-1999

Aboriginal children assimilate into NSW local schools, if all other parents agree. This right of veto is removed in 1960.

The federal government convenes the Australian Conference for Native Welfare, with all states and territories represented except Victoria and Tasmania, which claim to have no Aboriginal ‘problem’. The conference officially adopts a policy of ‘assimilation’ for Aboriginal people. “Assimilation means, in practical terms, that it is expected that all persons of Aboriginal birth or mixed blood in Australia will live like white Australians do.” [1]

Atomic tests are conducted on Maralinga lands at Emu Field, South Australia. They are code named Operation Totem. A black cloud passes and hundreds of families are forced to leave their homelands because of severe contamination. Further atom tests followed in 1956 at Maralinga, South Australia – Operation Buffalo. 10 years after the Australian government declared the clean-up of Maralinga as completed (in 2001) erosion continues to expose radioactive waste repositories. The remarkable thing really, is how little [radioactive material] we buried. — Alan Parkinson, retired nuclear engineer [2]

Queen Elizabeth visits Australia for the first time and in Canberra signs the Aborigines Welfare Ordinance 1954 that permits the ethnic cleansing of the Australian Capital Territory, clearing it of resident Aboriginal people.

Victorian Aborigines Welfare Board replaces the Board for the Protection of Aborigines. The Welfare Board is abolished in 1967.

Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines is set up. It group brings together a number of civil rights and Aboriginal welfare organisations. Its work plays a large part in bringing about the 1967 referendum. In 1964 the title changes to Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI).

  • Aboriginal people become eligible for social service benefits.
  • 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.

All Victorian Aborigines are finally given voting rights for the first time.

  • After entering in 1963, Charles Perkins becomes the first Aboriginal university graduate at University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Arts. He is also the first Aboriginal Australian to graduate from university.
  • Assimilation Policy restated as Integration Policy.

South Australia passes an Aboriginal Lands Trust Bill and the Prohibition of Discrimination Bill, the first state act prohibiting discrimination on grounds of race, colour or country of origin.

2000-2020

As part of the Victorian Government’s response to the Bringing Them Home Report, Victoria establishes a Stolen Generations taskforce.

The Museum Victoria returns the remains of an Aboriginal baby girl nicknamed ‘Jaara Baby’ to her modern-day relatives, the Dja Dja Wurrung people of north-west Victoria, 99 years to the day after they were found in a tree trunk by a woodcutter.

Victoria is the first state to formally recognise the sacrifice and service of Aboriginal servicemen during the inaugural Honouring Victorian Indigenous Returned Service Men and Women Shrine of Remembrance Service. The service is held each year since.

The University College, London, UK, hands over the skulls of three individuals from Victoria’s Gunditjmara community and another from the Dja Dja Wurrung nation [4]. It is the first repatriation to Victoria.

The Victorian Government appoints Aboriginal man Andrew Jackomos as Victoria’s – and Australia’s – first Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Youth. The appointment of an Aboriginal children’s commissioner was one of the recommendations arising out of the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry.

Museum Victoria returns the skull of Jim Crow, believed to have been a member of the Wonnarua people of the Hunter Valley. The skull was stolen from his grave in the early 1860s and later stored on Museum Victoria shelves for 126 years. [7]

  • A meeting of 500 Aboriginal leaders in Victoria rejects constitutional recognition and passes a motion demanding that the state “resources a treaty process, including a framework for treaties, with complete collaboration with all Sovereign Peoples and Nations”. [8]
  • The Victorian government commits to begin talks to work out Australia’s first treaty with Aboriginal people.[9] The treaty aims for Recognition of past injustices, Recognition of all 39 First Nations and their clans authority, Recognition of and respect for country, traditions and customs. A futures fund to implement and establish the treaty, Establishment of a democratic treaty commission, Land rights and land acquisition legislation and funding, Fresh water and sea water rights
  • A new law in Victoria allows Koorie people to protect and control the use of their culture and heritage by nominating for protection particular elements, e.g. traditional songs, stories, dance and art with significant spiritual and cultural connection to knowledge.

Greens’ Lidia Thorpe becomes the first Aboriginal woman to be elected to the Victorian parliament.

The lower house of the  Victorian government passes the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Act 2018 to create the framework for the treaty process. It is the first time legislation committing to treaty negotiations has ever been considered by an Australian parliament. [3] The framework will establish an Aboriginal representative body which in turn will help establish the process for the negotiation of a treaty, or treaties, between Aboriginal people and the state of Victoria.

  • Victoria sets up the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, an independent body that will be the voice of Aboriginal people in Victoria in the future treaty process and tasked to negotiate a framework for a treaty.
  • The International Council on Monuments and Sites, which works for the conservation and protection of cultural heritage places around the world, officially recommends world heritage status for the Budj Bim cultural landscape, a 6,600-year-old, highly sophisticated aquaculture system developed by the Gunditjmara people in south-west Victoria. If successful, it would become the first Australian site listed exclusively for its Aboriginal cultural value.
  • After a 17-year campaign, the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape near Portland, a 6,600-year-old Aboriginal aquaculture site in south-west Victoria, is added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Older than the pyramids, the site proves that Aboriginal people built channels and pools to harvest eels, and also permanent stone houses. The site is considered one of the largest and oldest aquaculture sites in the world and became the first Australian World Heritage site to be nominated exclusively for Aboriginal cultural values.
  • Victoria introduces the Custody Notification Service (CNS) that obliges police to contact the Aboriginal Legal Service after taking an Aboriginal person into custody. Western Australia follows one day later.

The timeline has been adapted from more detailed timelines located on the websites below.