A History of NAIDOC
1. The need for activism, 1920s and 1930s
Prior to the 1920s, Aboriginal Rights groups had boycotted Australia Day in protest against the status and treatment of Indigenous Australians. By the 1920s, they were increasingly aware that the media were largely ignorant of the effort. If the movement were to make progress, it would need to be active.
Several organisations emerged to fill this role, particularly the Australian Aborigines Progressive Association in 1924 and the Australian Aborigines League in 1932. Their efforts were largely ignored and due to police harassment the AAPA was forced to abandon their work in 1927.
In 1932, William Cooper, founder of the AAL, drafted a petition to send to King George V. The government of the day held that the petition fell outside their constitutional responsibilities. In 1937, Cooper submitted the petition, but the government did not forward it.
2. The Day of Mourning, 1938
On Australia Day, 1938, protestors marched through the streets of Sydney. The march was a prelude to a congress that was attended by around a thousand people. This was one of the first major civil rights gatherings in the world and was known as the Day of Mourning. It also set the stage for later counter-movements on Australia Day which have since become more widely known, such as Invasion Day.
The following week, a deputation from the congress presented the Prime Minister with a proposed national policy for Aboriginal people. At the time the government did not hold constitutional powers in relation to Aboriginal people so the policy was rejected.
After the Day of Mourning, there was a growing feeling that it should be a regular event. In 1939 William Cooper wrote to the National Missionary Council of Australia to seek their assistance in supporting and promoting an annual event.
3. 1940 – 1956
From 1940 until 1955, the Sunday before Australia Day was the Day of Mourning, now known as Aborigines Day. The NMCA believed that the day should become not simply a protest day but also a celebration of Indigenous culture and so in 1955 the day was shifted to the first Sunday in July.
4. NADOC is formed and recognition grows, 1957 - 1990
Major Aboriginal organisations, the state and federal governments, and a number of church groups all supported the formation of NADOC – the National Aborigines Day Observance Committee. At the same time, the second Sunday in July became a day of remembrance for Aboriginal people and their heritage.
In 1972, the Department for Aboriginal Affairs was formed, following from the outcome of the 1967 referendum. In 1974, the committee for the first time was composed of entirely Aboriginal members. The following year, it was decided that the event should cover a week, from the first to second Sundays in July.
In 1984, NADOC asked that National Aborigines Day be made a national public holiday, to help celebrate and recognise the rich cultural history that makes Australia unique. While this has not happened, the call has been echoed by other groups, including ATSIC.
5. NAIDOC, 1991 – Present
With a growing awareness of the distinct cultural histories of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, NADOC became known as the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee, NAIDOC. This new name has become the name by which the whole week is now called, not just the day. Each year, a theme is chosen to reflect the important issues and events for NAIDOC. During the mid-1990s, ATSIC took over the management of NAIDOC until ATSIC was disbanded in 2005.
On 13 February 2008 the Australian Parliament formally apologised to the Stolen Generations – those Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were forcibly removed from their family and their communities through the actions of past governments. The Prime Minister said that it was time “to deal with this unfinished business of the nation, to remove a great stain from the nation’s soul and, in a true spirit of reconciliation, to open a new chapter in the history of this great land, Australia”.
Learn more about Indigenous Australia:
National NAIDOC http://www.naidoc.org.au/
Reconciliation Australia http://www.reconciliation.org.au/