Research Task

Jessica Ashby

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

Timeline of Events

1770- English explorer Captain James Cook landed in Botany Bay and claimed the land 'in the name of King George III' (Swirk, 2013).

1788- Captain Arthur Phillip came to Sydney with the First Fleet

1902- Commonwealth Franchise Act denies Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples the right to vote in federal elections.

1925- Australian Aboriginal Progress Association (AAPA) is established

1948- UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights is adopted

1962- Commonwealth Electoral Act is amended to allow Aboriginal adults the vote at federal elections

1965- ‘Freedom ride’ takes place in northern New South Wales; federal government replaces assimilation policy with integration policy

1966- Wave Hill strike begins

1972- Aboriginal ‘Tent Embassy’ is erected outside Parliament House, Canberra; Whitlam Labor Government announces policy of self-determination

1985- Uluru is handed back to its traditional owners

1992- Federal High Court hands down the Mabo judgment

1994- Keating Labor Government introduces the Native Title Act

1996- High Court hands down the Wik judgment

2000- Corroboree walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge is held

2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is adopted

2008- Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd formally apologises to the Stolen Generations


Background Information on Aboriginals

When the First Fleet from Britain came over to Australia to set up colonisation in 1788, it was believed that there were 'at least 750 000 Aboriginal people were living in Australia' (Swirk, 2013). With in this population, the people were divided into nearly 600 different tribes and had hundreds of different languages. It is undecided how long exactly the Aboriginals have been living in Australia but some believe that they have been in the country for at least 120 000 years. As the Aboriginals were isolated from external influences, the Aboriginal people developed their own way of life, having their spiritual beliefs of the Dreamtime. This was the Indigenous time of creation.

The Aboriginals respected nothing more than the land they lived on. They cared for it and lived for it. So when the British came to take over the land, it had a severe impact on the Indigenous people and their connection with the land.

European Settlement

English explorer Captain James Cook first found the land of Australia in 1770. Then the first ship was sent over in 1778, starting the colonisation in Sydney. The British believed the Australian land was terra nullius, despite knowing the existence of the Indigenous population. 'Terra nullius is a Latin term meaning 'land belonging to no one' (Swirk, 2013). In the eyes of the British, they believed 'for the land to be owned, the people had to have farms and social, political or religious buildings on the land' (Anderson, M & Ashton, P 2000, p.48). The Indigenous population had not built anything, as they heavily respected the land and looked after it, leaving it natural the way it should be.

By 1870, they had spread themselves all over the place, covering the whole country apart from the middle, where the weather was too hot for any farming. As they spread 'conflict arose between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginal peoples over the possession of the land' (Anderson, M & Ashton, P 2000, p.48).

Below is a sketch called 'The Founding of Australia'. It is Captain Arthur Phillip claiming the Australian land with a British flag in Sydney.

Oil sketch, by Algernon Talmadge in 1937, (State Library NSW, 2011)

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Aboriginal Population

The Aboriginal population slowly declined from 1788 due to the European settlers, this is due to the diseases brought by the British, violence and massacres and malnutrition.

Below is an image that shows the decline of the Aboriginal population from 1788 to 1921. (Anderson, M & Ashton, P 2000, p.51)


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Dispossession of the Land

As the Europeans kept on spreading over the country, taking over the land and kicking the Indigenous people off, the Indigenous people felt that it was hopeless to keep fighting for their land. 'Dispossession became more than just the loss of land on which to live. Dispossession meant poverty, confusion and death' (Anderson, M & Ashton, P 2000, p.51). From this the Indigenous people felt disconnected from their land and there was spiritual unrest caused.

'Land can mean many things to Aboriginal people. It can mean home, camp, country, life-source, totem place and spirit centre. To Aboriginal people the land was not just soil or rock or minerals but the whole environment... Aboriginals were part of the land and the land was part of them. When they lost their land they lost themselves' (Anderson, M & Ashton, P 2000, p.49)

Protection Policy

The Aboriginal Protection Act 1869 was the first of its kind. The European settlers began setting up reserves run by government or church missionaries, for the Indigenous people where they were forced to live. Under this policy they had no rights.



  • Traditional names and customs were not allowed.
  • They were punished if they spoke in their own languages.
  • They could not leave or marry without permission.
  • Children had to attend special schools where the boys were taught to work on farms or be station hands and the girls to be servants.



As a result of the protection policies, some children, particularly ‘half-castes’ were forcibly taken from their families and taken to institutions or settler foster families. These children were often emotionally traumatised by the removal from their families and culture. They were given limited education, had poor living conditions and were made to work long hours. Some also experienced physical or sexual abuse. These children became known as 'The Stolen Generation'.

Wave Hill Walk Off

Wave Hill Station was a cattle station that was ran by a British company, Vesteys. The station employed local Aboriginal people, mainly Gurindji, as well as non-Aboriginal people. The working conditions were poor and the wages of the Aboriginal people were not equal to non-Aboriginal workers.

In August 1966 Aboriginal pastoral workers decided to walk off their 'job on the vast Vesteys' cattle station at Wave Hill in the Northern Territory' (National Museum Australia, 2012). They did this to express their unhappiness with their poor working conditions, poor pay and disrespectful treatment. Approximately 200 Aboriginal stockmen, families and house servants were lead by a Gurindji spokesman, Vincent Lingiari.

This walk off was successful as Prime Minister Gough Whitlam took action on 26 August 1975. Handing the land back over the Gurindji people. This was a symbolic hand over as he is physically handing over sand from the land into Vincent Lingiari's hand.

Image Below: (Aboriginal people strike & walk-off at Wave Hill, 2011)

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My Opinion

From the research that I have gathered about the Indigenous Land Rights, I believe that the pursuit of Indigenous Land Rights was not 100% successful and fully supported by the Australian population. This is because of how the Indigenous population were treated and how their land was taken over and ruined. If the Australians were 100% supporting the land rights, there would be no means for the Indigenous people to have walk offs. There would be no decrease in the Indigenous population. There would be no segregation or discrimination. There would be no protection policy, telling the Indigenous people where to live and how to live. As all of this did happen, it proves that the land rights were not fully supported by the Australian population.


References