Indigenous Land Rights Australia

By India Netté

Please be aware this flyer contains images of deceased people that may be upsetting for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Statement - The pursuit of Indigenous Land Rights was 100% successful and fully supported by the Australian population.

Key Figures

Prime Minister William McHonan

Prime Minister William McMahon was the prime minister of Australia from March 1971 to December 1972. This was a huge time for the Indigenous and Aboriginal people, as they were well into the fight for Land Rights at this point. McMahon an was Prime Minister on Australia Day 1972, when an Indigenous embassy appeared out the front of parliament in tents as a way of protesting. Earlier that morning McMahon had said that “his government would never grant land rights to the Indigenous people of Australia as it would 'threaten the tenure of every Australian'. McMahon said they would be allowed to lease (rent) land off the government (but only if it was for a project that would make money) and that mining would continue on Indigenous land.” –Skwirk

(Prime Minister William McHonan, 1971)

(A Great Pioneer, n.d.)

Chicka Dixon

Chicka Dixon was an Aboriginal Australian activist, who was inspired by Jack Pattern when he was just 18 years of age. He attended all the annual conferences of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) in the 1960’s. In 1967 he not only voted ‘yes’ for the Referendum to give Aboriginal Australian’s their rights, but he was manager of the Foundation of Aboriginal Affairs. In the 70’s he was the conveyor for the Federal Council’s Trade Union committee, and he was also involved in the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1972. That same year, he was invited to visit China and talk about the Indigenous Australian’s struggle for justice in their home country. The following year he became a member of the Aboriginal Arts board, and went on to participate in funding Indigenous Australians so they could continue their artwork.

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam

Gough Whitlam was Australia’s 21st Prime Minister for 2 short years from 1972. Whitlam made some of the biggest changes of the time, to the fight for Aboriginal rights. The government had originally been under William McHonan, and Whitlam wanted to change the way Indigenous Australian’s were treated and he believed that the Aboriginal people had a right to claim land. In 1973 he established the Commonwealth Office of Aboriginal Affairs and announced a policy of self-determination for the Aboriginal people. The following year, Whitlam promoted self-determination even further when he formed the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee (NAAC) to give the Indigenous people a political voice. The same year he also founded the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission.

(Gough Whitlam, 1954)

Opinions and Goals

Why fight for land rights?

The fight for land rights was essentially a part of the protest against the way Aboriginal and Indigenous Australians were treated. By gaining back the land rights the Aboriginal people had previously, it was a small step towards being acknowledged as people worthy of having rights. The Indigenous people also had very strong connections to the Australian land they had grown up on, and they were watching it be destroyed by mining and industry. This would have ‘fuelled the fire’ and made them even more passionate about gaining their land back.

What are some problems with giving back land rights?

To gain back land rights even today is a difficult, sticky situation. Not only do the Indigenous Australians have to go through a lengthy process to determine validity, there is also the problem with financial compensation. The land that may have originally belonged to an Indigenous group could possibly be inhabited by a company or industry such as mining, which would be making the government a large amount of money. Along with the money the government would lose if those companies/industries were not there, the government also has to pay the Indigenous group in compensation.

“Until we give back to the black man just a bit of land that was his and give it back without provisos, without strings to snatch it back, without anything but complete generosity of spirit in concession for the evil we have done him - until we do that, we shall remain what we have always been so far: a community of thieves.” —Xavier Herbert author of Poor Fellow My Country (1970)

Key Events

1963: The Yolgnu people of Yikkala sent a bark petition to the Federal House of Representatives, which explained all the problems that they were having, which were indirectly or directly caused by the extraction of land. The land was part of an Aboriginal Reserve, and the Government had previously that year (without permission) given permission to a mining company to mine bauxite in the area.

1966: A long, nine-year protest began when over 200 Indigenous workmen and their families decided that they had had enough of poor living and working conditions. They walked off the Wave Hill Cattle Station in the Northern Territory as a way of ‘strike’ or protest, and also later demanded the traditional lands of their people back from the station owners.

1972: The Aboriginal Tent Embassy is established on Australia Day on the Parliament House lawns as a means of protest against the Government’s rejection of land rights.

1982: Eddie Mabo and four other Indigenous Australians from Murray Island present to the High Court a claim to the native title of the Murray Island.

1992: The Prime Minister of the time – Paul Keating, delivers his ‘Redfern’ speech in Sydney, in which he expresses the importance of a new relationship between Australians of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous decent.

2002: Celebrations on the 3rd of June to mark the anniversary of the Mabo decision to give back the land rights of Murray Island.

Political Achievements

1966: The Aboriginal Lands Trust is established. This legislation provides Indigenous people with rights and the opportunity for claims of land.

1973: The Aboriginal Land Rights commission is established to recognise the Land rights of the traditional owners of the land. The Northern Land Council and the Central Land Council are also established for a similar purpose.

1975: The Racial Discrimination Act is passed, meaning that it became illegal for discriminate against another person on the basis of race. A piece of traditional land is also given back to the Gurindiji people, and they were recognised as the traditional owners of the land.

1988: The ‘High Court’ in Queensland recognises that the Coast Island Declaratory Act is conflicting with the previously mentioned Racial Discrimination Act, and so land rights claims can be seriously considered.

1994: The Native Title Act is brought into effect, meaning that an amount of Indigenous Organisations or groups are recognised as Native Title Representative Bodies.

2012: A national title claim is finalised for the Cape York Peninsula in Queensland, after the court acknowledged the last part of the claim.


The above information clearly shows that the pursuit of Indigenous Land Rights was not 100% successful, nor fully supported. However, it did have the majority of the Australian population on board for the 'yes' vote in the 1967 referendum. The fight for Indigenous Land Rights is still continuing today, however the movement is much more successful and 'fair' now, then it was 40 years ago with a bias government.


Chicka Dixon, 2008 National Museum Australia, accessed 16 September 2013, <>.

Gough Whitlam, n.d. National Museum Australia, accessed 16 September 2013, <>.

Howitt, B, et al. 2012, Pearson History 10 Student Book, 1st edn, Pearson Australia, Australia.

Land Rights: The Begining, 2013 Skwirk Interactive Schooling, accessed 16 September 2013, <>.

Native Title Issues & Problems, 2013 Creative Spirits, accessed 16 September 2013, <>.

Native Title Timeline, n.d. Indigenous Law Centre, accessed 16 September 2013, <>.

William McHonan, n.d. National Museum Australia, accessed 16 September 2013, <>.

Picture Bibliography

A Great Pioneer, n.d., Photograph, The Punch, accessed 16 September 2013, <>.

Gough Whitlam, 1954, Photograph, Wikipedia, accessed 16 September 2013, <>.

Prime Minister William McHonan, 1971, Photograph, Wikipedia, accessed 16 September 2013, <>.