Some scholars believed Indigenous Australian Aborigines had settled around 40,000 to 65,000 years ago. They consist of many different tribes with diverse traditional languages, cultures and history that considered land as sacred.
They had faced immense discrimination and mistreatment due to British colonization, which led to cultural loss through violent encounters, diseases, sexual abuses, dislocation and destruction of their sites.
In 1788, the British established their sovereignty by declaring legal Australia as terra nullius, meaning the ‘land belongs to no one. Aboriginal land rights were not recognised by the British and even not given equal rights to British settlers.
This resulted in violent conflicts and resistance shown in an invasion of their land. During this time these indigenous groups were affected by forcible removal, i.e. taking children by force and separating them from their families that led to cultural deprivation.
The legacy of the Colonial era has been racism, injustice and inequality for Aboriginal people. Their resistance and revolts were subsided by the British by adopting a policy of ‘disperse and dispatch’, violent massacres and many others. The colonisers using white racial superior theories of considering aboriginals as ‘doomed race’ gave justification for their ‘civilising mission’.
These Aboriginals saw the colonisation of language and their tradition, compel them to work as forced labour and hardships. They had to go through a government policy between 1869 and 1969 to ‘separate their children from their families and cultures through forced removal, fostering, adoption and institutionalisation to assist with ‘assimilation’’ created a ‘stolen generations’; and faced financial injustice of unequal wages called ‘stolen wages’ and confiscation of their land since the early 1900s (Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland, 2017). These indigenous people have shown their resistance to get their rights.
Protests of Australian Aboriginals
Many Australian Aboriginal groups had boycotted the 26 January (Australia Day) before the 1920s in order to protest the position and treatment of indigenous Australians. Gradually, they became more conscious about the general Australians were unaware of their protest, so they need to show some active action to get the attention. This led to rising of several organisations notably the Australian Aborigines Progressive Association (AAPA, in 1924) and the Australian Aborigines League (AAL in 1932), to give voice to indigenous rights.
Day of Mourning: 1938
Aboriginal Australians demanded equal treatment, rights and status by rallying a protest march through the streets of Sydney in 1938, and this became iconic as it was the world’s first civil rights rallies where thousands of people participated.
Many Australians celebrated “150 anniversary of the landing of the First Fleet” as a sign to continue their struggle and passed a resolution stating “150th Anniversary of the Whiteman’s seizure of our country, hereby make a protest against the callous treatment of our people by the white men during the past 150 years, and we appeal to the Australian nation of today to make new laws for the education and care of aborigines, we ask for a new policy which will raise our people to full citizen status and equality within the community”
They submitted a proposed national policy for Aboriginal people to the Prime Minister, but it was denied again as the government lacked constitutional authority over Aboriginal people. The day became a landmark and inspiration for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders activism that continued to call for a constitutional referendum.
Between 1940 to 1955, the Day of Mourning was known as Aborigines Day and was celebrated annually on the Sunday before Australia Day. This day moved to the first Sunday in July in 1955 that signify a day more than mere protest day but also as a celebration of Aboriginal cultures and histories.
The establishment of the National Aboriginal Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) was backed by many Aboriginal organisations and members of other religious groups and governments.
The second Sunday of July was designated as a day of commemoration of Aboriginal people, their history and their culture.
The referendum came in 1967 and the department of Aboriginal affairs was established in 1972. Later this celebration was extended over from the first to the second Sunday of July.
Gradually, with the rising awareness of different cultural histories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, their committee was renamed as ‘National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) in 1991.
Since the 1990s, a theme was selected to represent the significant issues that were taken up for the entire week as a part of NAIDOC week.
NAIDOC Week 4-11 July 2021
Observed to celebrate the Aboriginal history, culture and achievements, and reflect the protection of Aboriginal rights, sites and cultural heritage.
This week is a popular event to commemorate Aboriginal dance, traditional music, ceremonies, artwork across many cities of Australia.
NAIDOC National Award Ceremony recognise and celebrate the contribution made by indigenous people of Australia; additional, flag hosting of Aboriginals and Torres Strait is also a symbol of unity and diversity.
Contemporary Rights in Question?
Despite formal recognition of their past hurts in the form of ‘Sorry Day’ and ‘National Apology’; are these aboriginals got their deserving rights at ground level? It is a question of research, as many media news has raised issues of continues poverty, inequality and mistreatment of aboriginal Australians in the contemporary world, ‘Australia’s White Media Against People’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tb-GJhEtSps); ‘This Is Our Country Too!~Documentary On Injustice Of the Aboriginal Australians’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UPn_1XOxd0).
Despite these odds, NAIDOC Week is a welcome initiative to commemorate Aboriginal’s heritage and culture to establish unity in a multicultural society that leads to peace, unity and harmony.
Author: Dr Sakul Kundra, A.HOD Department of Social Science, College of Humanities and Education, Fiji National University.