Chinese sailors visit near Darwin

Chinese sailors visit near Darwin (NT), Evidence of 15th Century Ming statuette found.

Journeys of Macassan Trepangers

Dutch documents record the journeys of Macassan Trepangers (Indigenous traders from Indonesia) to ‘Marege’, as the Macassans call Australia.

Indonesian trepang fishers visit Northern Australia

Until approximately 1700 Indonesian trepang (sea slugs, sea cucumber) fishers visit Northern Australia.

Trade between Aboriginal people and the Macassans

Macassan praus sail to the north eastern coast of the Northern Territory. Trade between Aboriginal people and the Macassans continues until it is stopped by the South Australian government in 1906.

Bone tool deposits

Bone tool deposits at Otway Peninsula, Victoria suggest Aboriginal people were working with animal skins.

First Europeans to have contact with Australian Aboriginal people.

Dutchman Willem Jansz and the people on his ship Duyfken explore the western coast of Cape York Peninsula, the first Europeans to have contact with Australian Aboriginal people. The two groups clashed.

The Spaniard Luis Vaez De Torres sailed through Torres Strait.

Oldest Dated Rock Painting

The oldest dated rock painting is believed to come from the 1620s. The rock painting depicts a sailing boat and is proof of Aboriginal people’s early contact, possibly with Macassars from Indonesia fishing for trepang [1].

Armed Encounters with Aboriginal People

Dutchman Jan Carstenz described several armed encounters with Aboriginal people on the northern coast of Australia. Shots were fired and an Aboriginal man was hit

The British Arrive

Captain James Cook on the Endeavor sights the east coast of Australia on April 19, 1770. Ten days later, Captain Cook and his fleet land at Botany Bay.

Arrival of the First Fleet

The First Fleet arrives at Botany Bay and by 20 January, the whole fleet had cast anchor in Botany Bay. On 26 January, as the ships sailed into into Sydney Cove, it was noted that onlooking Aboriginal people brandished their spears at the approach.

Pre-contact Disease

The first Small Pox epidemic reaches South Australia via the Murray Valley, many years before white people settled in the state. Many Aboriginal people died as a result.

Whalers and Sealers

Whalers and sealers are active on the South Australian coast. In some noted instances, Aboriginal women are kidnapped and kept as slaves. George Taplin, an English missionary, later recounts three Aboriginal women escaping from whalers.

Matthew Flinders Charts SA Coast

While charting the South Australian coastline, Flinders encounters French explorer Nicolas Baudin. Although the two countries are at war at the time, the men meet peacefully and exchange ideas. The bay in which they met was named Encounter Bay as a result.

Charles Sturt Explores Murray Mouth

Charles Sturt follows the Murray River to its mouth. He and his party encounter many Aboriginal people along the way, a peacefully negotiate through situations that could have potentially ended in violence.

SA Formed

South Australian Land Company is formed amid a campaign for a Royal Charter which would provide for the establishment of a privately financed “free” colony in Australia.

South Australia Act

The Members of the House of Commons of the British Parliament pass the Foundation Act of the British Provence of South Australia which enabled South Australia to be established, and deemed the land as a waste and unoccupied. Their attitude towards those who were deemed uncivilised by nature of non-exposure to Christianity and Western ways is summed up by “It is a small matter to supplant the inhabitants of a barbarous country and to secure possession of their land. The superiority which comes from civilisation is soon acquired, and the feeble race bends before the stronger, as the reeds bend to the sweep of the winds”

Terra Nullius

Governor Bourke implements the doctrine of Terra Nullius upon which British settlement was based, reinforcing the notion that the land belonged to no one prior the British Crown taking possession of it. Aboriginal people therefore could not sell or assign the land, nor could an individual person acquire it, other than through distribution by the Crown. Although many people at the time also recognised that the Aboriginal occupants had rights in the lands (and this was confirmed in a House of Commons report on Aboriginal relations in 1837), the law followed and almost always applied the principles expressed in Bourke’s proclamation. This would not change until the Australian High Court’s decision in the Mabo Case in 1992.

King’s Letters Patent and SA Proclaimed

The King’s Letters Patent of 1836 sets the boundaries of the new province of South Australia, and acknowledges Aboriginal land rights. It stated that no actions could be undertaken that would “affect the rights of any Aboriginal natives of the said province to the actual occupation and enjoyment in their own persons or in the persons of their descendants of any land therein now actually occupied or enjoyed by such natives.” Despite this, Aboriginal people are systematically dispossessed of their land in the years and decades to follow. South Australia was proclaimed by Governor (then Captain) Hindmarsh beside the Old Gum Tree at present-day Glenelg. Hindmarsh tells the colonists that Aboriginal people were to be accorded “the privileges of British subjects.” He warns the settlers that they will be severely punished if they commit any acts of “violence or injustice” against the Aborigines.

Protector of Aborigines

The position of Protector of Aborigines is appointed to oversee the lives of Aboriginal people. The position was initially held by Captain Walter Bromley in interim in 1837, who was then succeed by William Wyatt later that year. Wyatt was replaced as Protector by Matthew Moorhouse in June 1839 when the public complained that Wyatt wasn’t “controlling the Aborigines.” Moorhouse remains as Protector until his resignation in 1856. Photo credit: www.adelaidia.sa.gov.au

Overland Expedition and Aboriginal School

Alexander Buchanan commanded an overland exhibition from Sydney to Adelaide. The expedition was armed and violence ensued with Aboriginal people on the way. At least 5 Aboriginal people were killed, with many more wounded. Governor Gawler believed the killings to be pre-emptive. In Adelaide, a school for Aboriginal children was opened on the banks of the Torrens by German missionaries Teichelmann and Schurmann. Its aims were to “civilise and Christianise native inhabitants.”
Courtesy of/Photographer: Catherine Manning, History SA

Frontier Violence

Extreme violence and conflict along the Murray as stockmen attempt to drive stock over land, and Aboriginal peoples unite to resist. Lives were lost on both sides, especially during what is now called the Rufus River Massacre – when a punitive force sent out to reclaim stolen livestock killed around 30 Aboriginal people at Rufus River. Meanwhile, in Adelaide, The Adelaide Hospital opened its doors, and Governer grey forbade Teichelmann to preach or speak in the Kaurna language.

Waste Lands Act

Land could be reserved for public use such as for the benefit of Aboriginal people. Twenty-four years later, it was found that of the sixty reserves set aside, most were still leased to white people. The Colonial Office in London ordered that a percentage of revenue from land sales now be reserved for Aboriginal welfare, as had been agreed two years before.

First mixed race marriage

The first mixed-race marriage in South Australia occurs when Thomas Adams married Kudnarto, of the Kaurna People.

Poonindie Mission opened

Poonindie Mission near Port Lincoln is founded for young Aboriginal People who had graduated from the Adelaide School. It is intended to “separate them from their peoples and bring them to European ways.”

SA Becomes a Self-Governing Colony and Protector Abolished

South Australia becomes a self-governing colony by the ratification of a new Constitution by the British Parliament. The office of Protector is abolished and the South Australian Commissioner of Crown Lands is entrusted with the ‘care’ of Aboriginal people. The Commissioner distributes flour and blankets and arranges medical attention.

Frontier Violence in the Northern Flinders Ranges

As the pastoral frontier expands through the northern Flinders Ranges and other northern districts in the early 1860s, Aboriginal resistance increases. Aboriginal people lose their lives at the hands of settlers and police, but Aboriginal resistance only ends in the late 1860s when severe drought forces most of the Adnayamathanha people into the ration depots and towns.

Select committee of enquiry into Aborigines in South Australia

The enquiry sets out to ascertain whether the land and money set aside for Aboriginal people is justifiable. Many people who give evidence before the Enquiry express the opinion that local Aboriginal people were dying out. George Fife Angus, an important figure in the colonisation of South Australia, states that “no subject in the course of the history of the colony has been so shamefully shirked as the welfare of the Aborigines.” The Select Committee concludes that the Aboriginal people in South Australia had gained little, and lost much, after European settlement and as a race they are doomed to extinction.

Overland Telegraph Line

Construction of the Overland Telegraph Line to link Adelaide and Darwin was commenced in 1870 and completed by 1872. The line opens up northern South Australia and central Australia for further exploration and settlement.


The six separate self-governing colonies of Australia become one nation. The Constitution makes Aboriginal people a State responsibility and excludes them from the census.

Protection Act

Aborigine’s Protection Act passed in South Australia. The Chief Protector is appointed as legal guardian of all Aboriginal children up until the age of 21. Government has the power to segregate Aboriginal people onto reserves and arrest them for leaving or refusing to go there. An Aboriginal woman can not marry a non-Aboriginal man without the written permission of the Protector. Aboriginal people can not be employed without a licence.

World War 1

Against Government policy, hundreds of Aboriginal peoples enlist in First AIF. Around 1000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders enlist in WW1, either by denying their Aboriginality, being deemed ‘white enough’ by officials, or joining up after the need for recruits grew too high for them to be rejected.

AAPA is Formed

The Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association is formed and holds the first of four highly successful conferences in Sydney. According to Malcolm Prentis, the AAPA at its peak had 500 members but eventually shut down after pressure from the Protection Board and police.

SA Protection Act

South Australian Aborigines’ Protection Act is amended to create Aborigine’s Department, headed by the Chief Protector with wide powers over everyone of Aboriginal descent

Aborigines Advancement League SA

The Aborigines Advancement league is set up to expose and overcome racism in policies and the workplace, and overall to create change for Aboriginal Australians.

World War 2

At least 4000 Aboriginal people and 850 Torres Strait Islanders serve in WW2, despite laws that exclude them from service, unfair treatment of returned Aboriginal Soldiers from WW1, and the denial of basic rights in their home country.


Australian Citizenship established at law and officially includes Aboriginal people. The federal vote was given to Aboriginal people who already had the vote and to Aboriginal ex-servicemen.

Aboriginal Affairs Act and Commonwealth Electoral Act

Aboriginal Affairs Act in South Australia abolishes all restrictions on Aboriginal people to promote their assimilation. The Commonwealth Electoral Act is amended to give the vote to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at Federal elections. The Act provided that Aboriginal Australians should have the right to enrol and vote at federal elections but enrolment was not compulsory. Despite this amendment, it was still illegal under Commonwealth legislation to encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to enrol to vote. Photo: http://www.abc.net.au

Walk Off at Wave Hill

Dissatisfied with poor working conditions, unfair treatment and unequal pay conditions, 200 Aboriginal stockmen, house-servants, and their families walk off the job at Wave Hill Station, Northern Territory. The strike protested the poor work and pay conditions and was part of a widespread campaign begun by workers on Brunette Downs Station and supported by non-Indigenous people. Photo: http://www.theaustralian.com.au


The 1967 Referendum makes history by amending the Australian Constitution so that Aboriginal people would be counted in the census and so that the government could make laws pertaining to Aboriginal people. The Referendum followed an intensive 10-year Vote “Yes” for Aborigines campaign – and with a national 91 per cent “yes” vote, it is the most successful referendum in Australia’s history.

Aboriginal Flag

The Aboriginal Flag, designed by Harold Thomas, is flown in Adelaide for the first time as as symbol of the Aboriginal Land Rights Movement. In 1995, it is made an offical flag of Australia.

Tent Embassy

In January, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy takes form as a single umbrella on the lawns of Parliament House. Before long, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians were coming from all around the country to join the cause. The Tent Embassy was formed to protest the McMahon Coalition Government’s refusal to recognise Aboriginal land rights. The campaign was successful in uniting Aboriginal people all around Australia in calling for uniform land rights.

Mabo Case Commenced

The Mabo Case commences proceedings in the High Court, in response to the Queensland Amendment Act 1982 establishing a system of making land grants on trust for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, which the Murray Islanders refused to accept. Eddie Mabo and four others sue the Queensland Government to establish his traditional ownership of the land.

Compulsory Voting

Enrolment and voting in Federal elections become compulsory for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, matching the policy for all other Australians.

ATSIC Formed

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission is formed as the Australian Government body through which Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders were formally involved in the processes of government affecting their lives. An elected body, ATSIC was set up by the Hawke Government to replace the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the Aboriginal Development Commission. ATSIC was abolished by the Howard Government in 2005.

Deaths In Custody

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody tables its final report. This marks the start of the formal reconciliation process – the Royal Commission recommended that all political leaders and their parties recognise that reconciliation between the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians must be achieved if community division, discord and injustice to Indigenous Australians were to be avoided.

Keating’s Redfern Address

Prime Minister Paul Keating’s historic address is given to a largely Aboriginal gathering at Sydney’s Redfern Park to commemorate the Year of the World’s Indigenous People.

The Mabo Decision

The Mabo Decision is passed down in the High Court of Australia, which historically overturns the legal doctrine of terra nullius that characterised Australian law with regards to land and title. This comes five months after Eddie Mabo’s death.

Bringing Them Home

On 26th May, the Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families is tabled in Federal Parliament. The ‘Bringing them Home’ Report revealed the extent of the forcible removal policies, which were passed and implemented for generations and into the 1970s. May 26 has since become known as National Sorry Day.

The Bridge Walk

On May 28, more than 300,000 people walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge in support of Reconciliation and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Almost a million people across the country subsequently mobilise for reconciliation, including 55,000 people crossing the Torrens in Adelaide.

Apology to the Stolen Generations

On February 13, then-Prime Minister delivers a landmark apology to the Stolen Generations. Thousands of Aboriginal people gather in Canberra to watch the Apology, which is also televised across Australia. Mr Rudd delivers the following apology: “For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry. To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.”

UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People

Australia supports the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Previously, Australia had been one of only four nations to oppose the Declaration.

The Lead-Up to Recognition

An expert panel is appointed by the Government to consult and lead a nationwide-discussion about formally recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution. After a period of consideration, discussion and consultation with all Australians, the panel develops recommendations to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our nation’s founding document. It reported to the Prime Minister on 19 January 2012.

Changing the Foundations of our Nation

In February this year, the Senate passed legislation to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first inhabitants of Australia. The bill, which passed unopposed in the Upper House, paves the way for a national referendum to amend the Australian Constitution. On Thursday the 21st of March, South Australia’s Constitution was amended to recognise Aboriginal peoples as the traditional owners and occupiers of South Australian land and waters. This long-overdue amendment acknowledges past injustices and recognises the continuing importance of Aboriginal heritage and culture.