Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander events, anniversaries and cultural celebrations.
February 13: National Apology
The 13 February is a new annual event that commemorates the anniversary (13 February 2008) of the Australian Government's National Apology to the stolen generations. A broad apology was offered to all Aboriginal people and the Stolen Generations for their profound grief, suffering and loss in a statement that was greeted by a standing ovation in Parliament. Thousands of Aboriginal and wider Australian communities gathered in Canberra (and in other capital Cities around Australia) to watch the historic apology, which was televised around the nation and shown at special outdoor settings in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Many of those watching had personal experience of the forcible removal of Aboriginal people, and there were emotional scenes as the apology was delivered.
February 19: South Australian Letters Patent
The Letters Patent established the Province of South Australia on 19 February 1836 and added to the provisions of the South Australia Foundation Act 1834, by including recognition of the rights of any Aboriginal natives or their descendants to the lands they actually occupied or enjoyed. The Letters Patent protected the inherited rights of the Aboriginal people of South Australia as traditional owners to their traditional country.
On 28 December 2006, the South Australian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation in a speech on Proclamation Day, referred to these Letters Patent and the Governor's Proclamation of that day 170 years ago (1836). In that speech the Minister, the Hon. Jay Weatherill, said that the Letters Patent expressly provided for the rights of any Aboriginal people. He went on to say that non-Aboriginal South Australians needed to recommit to the promises made to Aboriginal people at the time of establishing South Australia.
March 21: National Harmony Day
National Harmony Day is the calendar event of the Living in Harmony Initiative held on 21 March every year. The Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) administer the Living in Harmony Initiative chiefly as a community based education program. This Commonwealth initiative strives to encourage all Australians to contest discrimination. The initiative's three elements are:
- a community grants program;
- a partnership program; and
- a public information strategy (incorporating Harmony Day)
First celebrated in 1999, Harmony Day is at the heart of the public information strategy. Through the public information strategy, namely the activities of Harmony Day, individuals, communities and businesses are given the opportunity to participate in applauding diversity and standing against racism.
Harmony Day, coinciding with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, provides Australians with focus to:
- think about our community's success as a multicultural society;
- re-commit to continuing tolerance, goodwill and understanding among all groups;
- say no to racism.
The colour of orange was pioneered as the official colour to represent Harmony Day. Each year on 21 March, orange can be worn to publicly display a commitment to standing against racial prejudice. Orange was chosen for Harmony Day as a colour that suggests celebration.
March 21: United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
In 1966, the United Nations appointed 21 March as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It commemorates the 1960 Sharpeville massacre. The massacre saw the sacrifice of 69 peaceful anti-apartheid demonstrators and the wounding of a further 180 in Sharpeville, South Africa. White South African Police fired more than seven hundred shots during the demonstration.
The General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 1966. The Day was declared after relentless outrage and pressure from the international labour community, church organisations, human rights and equality-seeking organisations.
In 1983, the General Assembly of the United Nations called upon all states and organisations to participate in a program of action to combat racism and racial discrimination. On 21 March, 1986, the Prime Minister of Canada encouraged Canadians to join together and extend their efforts to ensure respect, equality, and justice for all Canadians. In 1988, at a conference on human rights, territories agreed to mark 21 March as the International Day for the Elimination of Racism in all jurisdictions of Canada.
The goal of each yearly campaign is to raise awareness to people and nations of the continuing presence of racism while inspiring them to take action against this discrimination. The Day is about promoting individual action and being open to new ideas.
The United States has not yet officially recognised the United Nations Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Government of Canada has supported the 21 March campaigns since 1989.
May 26: National Sorry Day
The first National Sorry Day was held on 26 May 1998. This was one year after the tabling of the report titled Bringing Them Home, the Federal Parliament National Inquiry into the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families.
The report revealed the extent of forced removal. Removal which went on for 150 years into the early 1970s and its consequences in terms of broken families, shattered physical and mental health, loss of language, culture and connection to traditional land, loss of parenting skills; and the enormous distress of many of its victims today.
Bringing Them Home has sold more copies than any comparable report. The Government, in its response, has acknowledged the harm caused by the policy and has made proposals to address some of the recommendations. The report recommended that a Sorry Day be held - a day when all Australians can express their sorrow for the whole tragic episode, and celebrate the beginning of a new understanding.
Many of the 'stolen generations' told the Inquiry that they would value this. However, unlike the widespread use of the term sorry business and its relation to death, Sorry Day is seen as a means of restoring hope to despairing people. Indigenous people will participate in a Day set aside to the memory of loved ones who never came home.
Sorry Day is an important step towards togetherness between all Australians. An apology means an understanding. Sorry Day offers an opportunity to acknowledge the impact policies of forcible removal had through a vast range of community activities.
May 27: National Reconciliation Week
The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation initiated national Reconciliation Week in 1996 to provide a time where all Australians can actively support reconciliation. Being held over the week of May 27 to June 3, it's a week where Aboriginal people, Torres Strait Islanders, and all Australians can celebrate the accomplishments of reconciliation to date and contemplate the future of reconciliation.
National Reconciliation Week is framed by two very important dates. May 27 marks the anniversary of the 1967 Referendum, and June 3 marks the anniversary of the High Court's judgement in the Mabo case in 1992. (See below)
National Reconciliation Week has been declared to "focus public attention on the relationship between Australia's first peoples - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples - and other citizens." The reconciliation process is significant for all Australians. It is about bridge building and respect of difference.
May 27: 1967 Referendum Anniversary
In a referendum in 1967, Australians enabled the Federal Government to make laws precisely relating to Australian Aboriginal's by voting for their inclusion in the national census. Through this vote, Federal Government had the power to overrule discriminatory laws in all State and Territory legislation and to create special laws for Australian Aboriginals. Previous to the referendum, Aboriginal people were not excluded from the benefit of Australian laws or programs aimed at the community in general, but the original 1900 Constitution prevented the Federal Government from legislating specifically for Aboriginal people.
The 1967 referendum question was supported nationally. 90.77 per cent of votes cast voted Yes, the highest agreement of all referendums. Since the referendum, Federal, State and Territory governments have contributed to delivering special programs and services to Aboriginal people.
The referendum did not affect the right of Aboriginal people to vote, there has been a long history of Aboriginal people voting prior to 1967.
June 3: Mabo Judgement
The term Mabo, as used in media reports refers to issues relating to the Australian High Court judgement in the Mabo versus Queensland case. Eddie Mabo was a Torres Strait Islander who believed non-indigenous laws relating to land were wrong and fought to change them. The Queensland Government strictly regulated life on the Torres Strait Islands. In 1981 during a lands rights conference Mabo made an important speech where he outlined land ownership and land inheritance in Murray Island (island at the eastern extremity of Torres Strait). A lawyer at the conference suggested a test case to claim land rights through the court system.
The Murray Islanders decided to challenge the High Court in their claim of Terra Nullius (no mans land). Mabo was chosen as the leader for this, having many years of experience as a community leader and activist. On the 3 of June 1992, the High Court ruled that the land title of the Aboriginal Peoples, the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, be recognised as common law. The legal doctrine of native title was inserted into Australian law. This followed after a decade of litigation.
It was in May 1982 that Mabo began the legal claim for ownership of the land in the Torres Strait. The High Court required the Supreme Court of Queensland to resolve the facts on which the case was based. However, while the case was with the Queensland Court, the State Parliament passed the Torres Strait Islands Coastal Islands Act, stating that any rights that the Torres Strait Islanders had to land after the claim of sovereignty in 1879 were extinguished. Mabo therefore had a first case that challenged the legislation stating this Act was in inconsistent with the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act of 1975.
By the time Mabo No. 2, the recognition that Aboriginal people in Australia had a prior title to land taken by the Crown, was decided Mabo had been deceased for six months. In 1993, following the High Court decision of Mabo No. 2, Commonwealth Parliament passed the Native Title Act. Mabo changed the history of Australia, bringing it to the level of common law countries like USA and Canada.
The papers of Edward Koiki Mabo, including material on the land claim case, personal documents, job applications, and song lyrics and some diaries, have been kept at the National Library of Australia since 1995 and have been arranged in consultation with the Mabo family.
NAIDOC Week - First full week of July
The National Aboriginal and Islander Day of Celebrations (NAIDOC) has been achieved through a long history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander endeavours to voice their concerns to Governments and the general public.
The history began in 1924 when the Australian Aborigines Progressive Association (AAPA) was formed. The AAPA attempted to raise the awareness of the struggle of Aboriginal people but were pushed to stop their work in 1927 due to frequent police harassment.
In 1932, William Cooper, from Cummeragunga, formed the Australian Aborigines League. Cooper drafted a petition to King George V in protest to the living conditions of Australian Aboriginal people, but the Commonwealth Government informed him that this would be an unconstitutional act. Cooper desired representation of Australian Aboriginal people in Parliament and in 1937 Cooper presented the royal petition to the Commonwealth asking for deliverance of it to the King.
In November of that year, Cooper organised a meeting of Aboriginal people proposing that they hold a Day of Mourning on the next Australia Day to display their feelings on non-Aboriginal Australia. William Ferguson launched the Aborigines Progressive Association in 1937. Together he and William Cooper planned the first Day of Mourning.
To acquire public backing for the Day of Mourning, Ferguson and the APA's President, J.T. Patten, designed a pamphlet called Aborigines Claim Citizen Rights. It called for new policies for Aboriginal affairs with complete citizenship position for Aboriginal people and rights to land.
On the Australia Day of 1938, the Australian Aboriginal League and the Aboriginal Progressive Association held a Day of Mourning. The next year Cooper sought the assistance of the National Missionary Council of Australia (NMCA) for assistance with promotion. In January 1940, the Sunday following the Australia Day became the first Day of Mourning Aboriginal Sunday.
In 1955, the NMCA suggested that the Aborigines Day should become a National Day with the aim to change negative attitudes towards Aboriginal people and to include Commonwealth and State Governments as well as the churches. In 1957, the National Aborigines Day Observance Committee (NADOC) was formed with wide-ranging support.
In 1957, Sir Douglas Nicholls, an Aboriginal Pastor of the Uniting Church, encouraged the NMCA to make the second Sunday in July to be a day of remembrance for remembrance of Aboriginal people and heritage.
In 1991, NADOC changed to NAIDOC to include Torres Strait Islanders. To the present, NAIDOC celebrations continue to give Australian Aboriginal people the opportunity to display their culture and heritage.
August 4: National Aboriginal and Islander Children's Day
An initiative of the Secretariat of National and Islander Child Care (SNAICC), National Aboriginal and Islander Children's Day was first observed in 1988 and has a different theme each year. The aim of the day is to highlight the importance of children to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
August 9: International Day of the World's Indigenous People
The United Nations decided to celebrate the International Day of the World's Indigenous People on this day every year during the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People (1994-2004). In 2004 the Assembly proclaimed a Second International decade. The goal of this decade is to further strengthen international cooperation for the solution of problems faced by Indigenous people in such areas as culture, education, health, human rights, the environment, and social and economic development.
September 6: Indigenous Literacy Day
Indigenous Literacy Day aims to help raise funds to raise literacy levels and improve the lives and opportunities of Indigenous Australians living in remote and isolated regions. We need your support to help raise funds to buy books and literacy resources for children in these communities.
Septmeber 13: Anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly during its 61st session at UN Headquarters in New York City on 13 September 2007.
Aboriginal Sports Carnival (October Long Weekend)
An Aboriginal Sports Carnival is convened every year. Recently supported by the State Government, the Aboriginal Sports Carnival existed with Point Pearce and Koonibba being identified as the two key football clubs responsible for the Carnival. Now an annual statewide event occurring on the October long weekend, the Aboriginal Sports Carnival brings together football and netball clubs (approximately 12 football teams and 25 netball teams) from across the state for a weekend of competition and fun.
December 10: International Human Rights Day
On 10 December, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the Palais de Chaillot. This historic document outlines the human rights standards the UN believes should be implemented by all nations, such as the right to life, liberty and nationality, to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, to work, to be educated, (and) to take part in government.
Following this historic act the Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicise the text of the Declaration and “to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories.Back to Top