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Brenda Palma, from the National Aboriginal History & Heritage Council, tells us why the 1938 Day of Mourning was so important in Sydney’s Indigenous history.


































































Evelyn Scott, Chairperson of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, welcomes people to Corroborree 2000.


Geoff Clark, Chairman of ATSIC, addresses the audience at Corroboree 2000.


Significant Aboriginal Events
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If you want to know more about the people mentioned below, search Barani or see Significant Aboriginal People in Sydney.

January 26 was nominated as Australia Day to celebrate the anniversary of white settlement. It commemorates the ceremonious unfurling of the British flag at the head of Sydney Cove by Governor Arthur Phillip in 1788. By the beginning of the 21st century, however, it is also recognised as a day of mourning for the invasion and dispossession of Australia’s Aboriginal people.

To many people, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, the day will never be seen as a national day of celebration. The landing at Sydney Cove marks the beginning of bitter wars, unnecessary and brutal deaths, and the continuing struggle for survival by Aboriginal people in Sydney and around Australia.

The Centenary in 1888 was a proud celebration of British and Australian achievement. Aboriginal people boycotted the celebratory events but their absence went unnoticed by mainstream Australians. By 1938 though, Aboriginal people in Sydney were becoming more organised in their political activities. Bill Ferguson organised the first meeting of the Aborigines Progressive Association in 1937 in preparation for an event to mark the 150th anniversary of the British arrival. Ferguson, William Cooper (leader of Victoria's Australian Aboriginal League) and Margaret Tucker organised "A Day of Mourning and Protest" and a conference for January 26, 1938. This event was held in the Australian Hall at 150 Elizabeth Street after they were refused use of Sydney Town Hall. The meeting was the first Aboriginal civil rights gathering and was a major step towards redressing the wrongs of history against Aboriginal people. It attracted some 1000 Aboriginal men and women and was the culmination of ten years of action by Aboriginal people against the policies of the NSW Aborigines Protection Board.

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Leaflets advised that "Aborigines and persons of Aboriginal blood only are invited to attend" the Day of Mourning and Protest Conference at Australian Hall on 26 January 1938. White reporters & photographers were barred but somehow Man: the magazine for men was admitted and published this photograph. The organisation leaders William Ferguson is on the far left and John Patten is on the far right.
(Man, March 1938. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.)

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The "Day of Mourning and Protest" made an impact, achieving both media attention and an agreement by the Prime Minister to receive a deputation of delegates.

The day also saw an appalling contrast. Aboriginal organisations in Sydney refused to participate in the Government’s re-enactment of the events of January 1788. In response, the Government transported groups of Aboriginal people in from western communities to participate in their place. The visitors were locked up at the Redfern Police Barracks stables and members of the Aborigines Progressive Association were denied access to them. After the re-enactment at Farm Cove (Wuganmagali), the visiting group of Aborigines were featured on a float parading along Macquarie Street.

In this 1938 re-enactment of Governor Phillip’s landing, Aborigines (specially brought in for the occasion) are shown running up the beach as the boats of the First Fleet marines land at Farm Cove. A group of white dignitaries sits in comfortable safety watching the invasion.
(Hood Collection, State Library of New South Wales.)
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By 1988 there would be no more such re-enactments. On January 26 that year, 40,000 Aboriginal people (including some from as far away as Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory) and their supporters marched from Redfern Park to a public rally at Hyde Park and then on to Sydney Harbour to mark the 200th anniversary of invasion.

From this march grew the concept of "Invasion Day" and "Survival Day", marking the anniversary of the beginning of land loss, but also recognising the survival of a race of people who had been expected to die out. In 1992 the first Survival Day concert was held at La Perouse and in 1998 the event moved to Waverley Oval near Bondi Beach.

Click to View a Larger Image A postcard advertising the Survival 2000 concert held at Bondi on 26 January and featuring Jimmy Little, Frank Yamma, Sonny Keeler, Stiff Gins, Frances Williams, Naisda Dancers, Tiddas, Wirangu Bank and many more Aboriginal performers.
(Photography by Bob King. Produced for NIAAA)
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The 1960s were a time of protest against racism around the world. In Sydney in 1965, Charles Perkins, the first Aborigine to attend university, joined with students and others in the "Freedom Rides" aimed at increasing the public awareness of racial intolerance in Australia.

The rides, to expose segregation and the shame of Australia’s treatment of their Aboriginal people, drew on the non-violent protest literature of the Black American movement and its methods were applied to the Australian protests. The "Freedom Ride" bus was farewelled from Sydney University campus by the voices of Black Americans singing the stirring protest song "We Shall Overcome".

The May 27 1967 referendum followed a ten-year campaign spearheaded by FCAATSI. The nation voted to give Aboriginal people citizenship rights in their own country. It appears that non-Indigenous people didn’t have to be convinced that Aborigines deserved the rights to equality and there was an overwhelming "Yes" vote of more than 90% across the country.

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(Taken from a copy held in the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)

The "Yes" vote allowed amendments to the Constitution so that Aboriginal people could be counted at the census and the Commonwealth Government would have the power to legislate over Aboriginal people. Previously the States held complete power. It also meant that Aboriginal people had citizenship rights and the right to vote in both State and Federal elections. (They were no longer considered part of the ‘Flora and Fauna’ portfolio!).

It has been suggested that the only time "a fair go" meant anything in Australia when the "Yes" vote won in the 1967 referendum. Yet, in terms of prejudice and discrimination, Aboriginal people noticed little change in their daily lives. On the 30th Anniversary of the referendum, Dr Faith Bandler evaluated the progress of the Aboriginal rights movement.

National Aboriginal and Islander Week, otherwise known as NAIDOC Week, is held in the first full week in July. Celebrations in Sydney have occurred because local organisations and individuals have been keen to increase the profile of National Aborigines Day (the Friday in NAIDOC Week). In July 1989, NAIDOC Week in Sydney included a march from Belmore Park to the Domain in protest against the Government's policy for mainstreaming Aboriginal services. As part of the protest action, a sit-in took place at the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, focusing attention on the failure of OAA to restore funding to 27 Local Aboriginal Land Councils.

National Aborigines Day is celebrated with speeches in Martin Place on 12 July 1963 as a policeman watches proceedings. NAIDOC stands for National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee and was known as NADOC until the ‘I’ for Islander was added in 1989. From 1938, the ‘Day of Mourning’ was held on or near Australia Day, 26 January. When the Committee was formed in 1957, Aboriginal Pastor Sir Douglas Nicholls nominated the second Sunday in July as a day of remembrance of Aboriginal people and heritage. From 1975, the celebration has taken place over a week with an annual theme. The 2001 theme was Treaty – Let’s Get it right.
(Government Printing Office Collection, State Library of New South Wales)
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The official opening of NAIDOC Week in Sydney in 1991 began at the Sydney Town Hall with an address by the then Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Robert Tickner and Millie Ingram from the NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Designer of the Aboriginal Flag, Mr Harold Thomas, raised it before guest speakers Archie Roach, Linda Burney, Lyle Munro, Evelyn Crawford and Jeff Scott. Speeches were then followed by a march to Martin Place where Bob Morgan, David Prosser, Margret Campbell and Sol Bellear addressed the crowds.

In 1997 the NAHHC organised a film night at the Australian Hall (the Mandolin Cinema at that time) as part of NAIDOC Week celebrations. However, the organisers were dismayed when the owners of the building cancelled the booking. The film night had been seen as an opportunity for Aboriginal people and others to visit the Hall on the eve of the critical Heritage Council decision which would decide the site’s future.

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(Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation)

Corroboree 2000 took place in Sydney during Reconciliation Week in May 2000 to mark the end of the ten-year official Reconciliation process. The Reconciliation Council presented to the Government its Reconciliation Document containing recommendations for co-existence between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. In an overwhelming show of endorsement for Aboriginal people, approximately 250,000 people marched across the Harbour Bridge in support of Reconciliation.

Reconciliation walk across the Harbour Bridge, May 2000.
(Private Collection: Melinda Richards)
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Click to View a Larger Image Sea of Hands at the Botanic Gardens as part of Reconciliation Week, May 2000
(Private Collection: Melinda Richards)
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This sent a strong message to John Howard, Prime Minister and Leader of the Federal Liberal Government, to say "Sorry" to the Stolen Generation and all those affected by former policies of removing Aboriginal children from their families.

Designed and distributed in 2000 by The Body Shop.
Artwork by Donna Brown
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Click to View a Larger Image Some headlines from The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald on 29 May 2000 after Australians showed their support for Reconciliation by turning out in record numbers to walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge
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