The Pursuit of Indigenous

Land Rights

The pursuit of Indigenous Land Rights is NOT 100% successful and fully supported by the Australian population. It has been a long battle that is not over yet. There have been key events and people that have shown both the good and bad side of the land rights movement in Australia.

60,000 years ago- Indigenous Australians began a society including approximately 250 languages, culture, trades and land connection.

1788- The First Fleet landed on the shores of New South Wales with convicts. Settlement of the European begins.

1798- The white population grows to nearly 5,000 peoples in New South Wales.

1830- A failed attempt to herd the remaining freed indigenous peoples of Tasmanian into one place. This was done to try and end the ‘Black War’ that had apparently been happening on the island for over a decade.

1830-1834- George Augustus Robinson rounds up Indigenous Australians and takes them back to Hobart, where he treats them as slaves. They were later transferred to the Flinders Island on Bass Strait. Here disease started to wipe out the population.

1836- Governor Bourke of NSW began an annual squatting license fee. This was to stop squatters from killing the Indigenous Australian and regulate land usage.

1838-1839- The Myall Creek Massacre. A man killed around 30 Wirrayaraay peoples. The first trial the man was not convicted but the Governor George Gipps insists on re-trial.

1855- The first of many anti-chinese legislations passed in the colonies. This is because of a large xenophobic response due to the big influx of chinese diggers into the gold fields.

1870- First Indigenous children to enroll in schooling in NSW, differing from missionary schooling. There will only be 200 children in this decade to go through schooling.

1881- A protector of Indigenous Australians is appointed in NSW. He has power to force indigenous peoples to live on government reserves. More colonies grow and more rights are taken from the indigenous.

1886- Aboriginal Boards of Protection force half indigenous peoples to leave reserves. Families are now separated by government intervention.

1901- Australia federates. First parliament opens in Melbourne. Indigenous peoples were not included to vote, pensions, and censors.

1901- White Australia Policy or the Immigration Restriction Act is passed. Is used for the next 60 years.

1920-Estimated Indigenous population around 60,000. Thought of as a dying race.

1925- The Australian Aborigines Progress Association (AAPA) is formed.

1937- First major protest for indigenous rights.

1949- Indigenous peoples who have served in the armed forces or have enrolled in state elections have the right to vote.

1953- Permanent nuclear test facilities given to the British Government on land on Maralinga site in the Pitjinjara language-speaking site. This was despite the area being inhabited by the Anagu Indigenous People.

1957- National Aborigines Day Observance Committee is formed (NADOC).

1958- The Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines begins a ten long battle against discrimination.

1966- Wave Hill Station protest begins. Vincent Lingiari leads the Gurindji peoples to Wattie Creek where they establish a campsite for a sit in. This ends in 1795 when Gough Whitlam, Prime minister at the time givens Mr Lingarri the land back and for him to mark a new lease of 3,300 square kilometers back to the Gurindji peoples.

1967- Indigenous Australians are finally given full citizenship including voting rights, this was done by a referendum. 91% of Australia voted YES.

1970-1971- Indigenous Medical Service is set up in Redfern along with housing.

1971- The Indigenous Flag is designed and used for the Indigenous rights movement.

1972- The ‘Tent Embassy’ or the Indigenous embassy is pitched on the lawn ousdie Parliament House in Canberra. It has been taken down numerous times but in 1992 was permanently pitched on the lawn.

1972- Gough Whitlam and the Labor Party comes into power and within the first 100 days withdrawals of troops from Vietnam, conscription was stopped and the first drafts of legislation for federal finding for education started.

1973- Whitlam government removes racial aspects of immigration law and ends the White Australia Policy.

1975- Vietnam War ends.

1975- Prime Minister Gough Whitlam hands back the land title to the Gurindji peoples.

Wattie Creek Walk Off

In 1966 Vincent Lingiari, along with 200 Gurindji people walked off a cattle farm in a battle to reclaim their land that had been taken. The battle took over 8 years but in 1975 the Prime Minister Gough Whitlam handed back the traditional land to Mr Lingiari (Leader of the Gurindji people). This was symbolically recognised by Whitlam pouring soil back into Lingiari’s hands. This was one of the earliest land rights battle that was won by the indigenous people and inspired many other throughout generations to do the same.

1975- Racial Discrimination Act 1975 is passed.

1978- Pat O’Shane becomes the first Indigenous Australian law graduate and becomes a barrister.

1979- A protest is held against the American oil company’s for testing drilling for oil. This is for the indigenous people at Noonkanbah. Unfortunately the tests still go ahead even though WA Supreme Court grants an injunction.

1983- Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 (NSW) is passed, recognizing the dispossession and displacement.

1985- Uluru is handed back to the traditional land owners.

The Barunga Statement

In 1988 many elders from different communities of indigenous Australia presented the Prime Minister Robert Hawke with a statement asking for aspects of land rights. This was the Barunga statement. It asked for basic rights to access ancestral lands, to be compensated for loss of their land, protection of sacred space and the right to access the land for traditional purposes. The proposal read…

“ - To self-determination and self-management including the freedom to pursue our own economic, social, religious and cultural development.

- To permanent control and enjoyment of our ancestral lands.

- To compensation for the loss of use of our lands, there having been no extinction of original title.

- To protection of and control of access to our sacred sites, sacred objects, artefacts, designs, knowledge and works of art.

- To the return of the remains of our ancestors for burial in accordance with out traditions.

- To respect for and promotion of our Aboriginal identity, including the cultural, linguistic, religious and historical aspects, and including the rights to be educated in our own languages and in our own culture and history.

- In accordance with the universal declaration of human rights, the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, the international covenant of civil and political rights, and the international convention of elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, rights to life, liberty, security of person, food, clothing, housing, medical care, education and employment opportunities, necessary social services and other basic rights.

We call on the Australian Government t support Aborigines in the development of an international declaration of principles for indigenous rights, leading to an international covenant. ”

The main part of the Barunga statement was asking for self-determination. This is giving the right for the indigenous peoples to self govern their community. Self-determination was put in place until the Howard Government shut it down, as there were rumours of corruption. There was never an agreement to the Barunga Statement by parliament.

Mabo Case

In 1982 a ten yearlong battle for recognition of land ownership began with Eddie Mabo seeking acknowledgment of his traditional land. He fought for recognition of the continuous inhabitancy of him and his people on the Murray Islands. He also fought for recognition that no one specifically owned terra nullius. Throughout this time, the case was taken to the Supreme Court and High Court. On the third of June 1992, the case was finally settled and it was agreed that terra nullius did not indeed belong to anyone. From this, the Native Title Act was created in response to Mr Mabo’s work and determination. The Act …

“ - Recognises and protects native title.

- Provides the validation of any past grants of land that may otherwise be invalid because of the existing native title.

- Provides a regime to enable future dealings in the native title land and imposes conditions on those dealing with them.

- Establishes a regime to ascertain where native title exists, who holds it and what it is.

- Creates a land acquisition fund to meet the needs of dispossessed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples who would not be able to claim native title. ”

Premier Brian Burke

There have been people though out history that have not favoured land rights. The Premier Brian Burke started a campaign against land rights as it was thought to be interfering with the mining industry. By 1984 he has created and introduced legislation that deprived the indigenous communities the right to prevent mining on their land. This was later withdrawn. This is one of the cases shown against land rights. Many of the cases against were and are from the mining community or from the farming community. “What happened land rights was that the mining industry was too powerful, the pastoral industry was too powerful and the Commonwealth Government didn’t have the will to stand up to those vested interest group” (Coe, P, Indigenous Activist, n.d)

1991- The council for aboriginal reconciliation is established by Act of Parliament.

1992- Tent Embassy permanently pitched on the lawn outside of parliament house.

1992- The high court overturns terra nullius and rules native title exists and the Mabo case is won.

1992- Prime Minister Paul Keating delivers the ‘Redfern park Speech’ on reconciliation where he talks of the complex history and how contemporary identities cannot be separated from Indigenous Australia.

1993- Native title act is passed.

1995- The Indigenous Flag is finally recognized in federal legislation.

1995- Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander children from their families are announced by NREOC.

1996- Pauline Hanson and the One Nation Party campaign say that it is ‘special treatment’ for indigenous peoples.

1997- A report of inquiry into the Stolen Generation is released. Howard makes a apology but not official as he does not believe he needs too.

1998- Native Title Amendment Act 1998 is passed.

2008- Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologizes to the stolen generation.

2010- Julia Gillard announces plans for recognition to the indigenous peoples in the constitution.


The pursuit of Indigenous Land Rights is not 100% successful and fully supported by the Australian population. The fight for land rights is still a very recent issue and is not an issue that has been completely dealt with. Many politicians though out have fought for and against land rights of indigenous peoples. A few title acts have being passed by the parliament. This has, mostly helped land claims. These acts have all been created from different protests. By having protests, politicians and law land right claims can be solved but this is still not the case. Since Eddie Mabo’s claim in 1992, there has not been much movement around the issue. Recently Warren Mundine, head of the Indigenous Advisory Council in 2013, talked about ‘how we can wake up land rights so it creates that economic and commercial future for indigenous generations of the future and present” (Mundine, 2013) showing that the issue still has a long way to go and needs to be addressed.


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