First Nations Dates of Significance 2024

Blak Powerhouse 2024 by Cole Baxter
February 20, 2024
July 9, 2024
Last Updated
February 20, 2024
Written by
The Common Ground Team
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Many dates throughout the year are historically and culturally significant to First Nations people.

January 26: Invasion/Survival Day

What many Mob refer to as Invasion or Survival Day, January 26 is not a day to celebrate. It is a day for reflection on our shared history, and mourning for First Nations people. In modern times communities and allies in capital cities across the country start the day with a dawn service, before taking to the streets. In some cities, a community event is held afterwards, such as Yabun, which has a host of cultural activities, First Nations market stalls, food, and live music.

January 26 is also the day the Aboriginal Tent Embassy was established 52 years ago in 1972. The Embassy was set up by First Nations activists on the lawns opposite Old Parliament House in Canberra. The Embassy is a hub for land rights activism and advocating for First Nations sovereignty.

Read this year’s feature piece by Tyberius Larking.

February 13: National Apology Day

On this day in 2008, Kevin Rudd (then Prime Minister) made a formal apology to First Nations people and the Stolen Generations.

The Stolen Generations refers to the First Nations children and young people who were removed from their families by Australian federal and state government agencies and church missions between 1910 and 1970. This was the policy of assimilation.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

Learn more about the Stolen Generations.

February 13-26: Anniversary of the 1967 Freedom Ride

The 1965 Freedom Ride was a 15-day bus journey through regional New South Wales. It was led by a group of students from the University of Sydney, including Arrernte and Kalkadoon man Charlie Perkins. They drew national and international attention to the racism experienced by First Nations people in country New South Wales.

Learn more about the Freedom Ride.

March 8: International Women’s Day

Although it’s not a First Nations-specific holiday, International Women’s Day has grown in popularity within our communities as an important day to celebrate our matriarchs and their achievements.

This year’s theme is: Count Her In: Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress. The theme comes from the United Nations 68th Commission on the Status of Women, and is about women’s economic empowerment. As stated on the UN website, “When women are given equal opportunities to earn, learn and lead – entire communities thrive."

March 21: National Close the Gap Day

National Close the Gap Day is held on the third Thursday of March every year. Close the Gap was started in 2006 by First Nations and mainstream peak health and advocacy organisations. 

The campaign advocates for health equity between First Nations and non-Indigenous people.

The government’s Closing the Gap strategy is different, and launched in 2008. This is a series of policies and health targets in which there has been little progress.

Learn more about National Close the Gap Day.

April 5: Anniversary of the Bringing Them Home Report

This year is the 27th Anniversary of the Bringing them Home report. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission delivered the report on 5 April 1997, following the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families. 

The report includes 54 recommendations intended to support healing for the Stolen Generations and their families.

Learn more about the Bringing them Home report.

April 15: Anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Report

On 15 April 1991, the final report was released following the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The report outlined fundamental changes necessary to stop the alarmingly high rates of First Nations deaths in custody.

The recommendations were about self-determination, ending over-policing of First Nations communities and reducing the number of First Nations people being taken into custody. 

Research by the Australian National University found that very few of the 339 recommendations of the Royal Commission have been implemented, and some current policy positions directly contradict the recommendations. In 2020, the national incarceration rate of First Nations people was almost 30%, despite First Nations people representing less than 3% of the national population. This is more than double the incarceration rate at the time of the Royal Commission. Over three decades later and still we do not have justice.

Learn more about the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

April 25: ANZAC Day

ANZAC Day is a national day of remembrance to honour the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who served in the Gallipoli campaign in World War I. The day also broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders who have served.

It’s difficult to determine the exact number of First Nations people who served in World War I, but it is believed to be more than 1,000. This is because the enlistment process didn’t record a person’s ethnicity, and the Defence Act 1909 banned people from enlisting if they were ‘not substantially of European origin or descent’.

Many First Nations people concealed their identity so they could join. Our people served, and our contribution has been significant. Some made the ultimate sacrifice, going to rest in the Dreaming. Others returned home to Country, only to face racism from white Australia.

Importantly, First Nations people have been warriors of our own resistance since 1788.

Learn more about warriors of the Frontier Wars.

May 1: Anniversary of the Pilbara Strike

On 1 May 1946, around 800 First Nations pastoral workers from over 25 different stations in north-west Western Australia went on strike for better wages and working conditions.

It was the first industrial action by First Nations people since the beginning of colonisation. The strike lasted until 1949, making it the longest strike in Australian history.

Learn more about the Pilbara Strike.

May 26: National Sorry Day

National Sorry Day is a day to remember and acknowledge the mistreatment of First Nations people who were forcibly removed from their families and communities — the Stolen Generations. 

It’s a day to pay tribute to their remarkable strength and resilience, and to reflect on how we can contribute to the healing process of our communities. Because sorry means you don’t do it again.

Our kids need culture, community and family so we can continue intergenerational storytelling and knowledge sharing.

Learn more about forced removal of First Nations children.

May 27: The 1967 Referendum

On 27 May 1967, an overwhelming majority of Australian citizens voted “yes” in a national referendum to amend clauses of the Australian Constitution concerning First Nations people. 

Campaigners for the “yes” vote successfully argued that those references were discriminatory and excluded First Nations people from citizenship.

Learn more about the 1967 Referendum.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart was delivered on the 50th anniversary of the 1976 referendum (May 27, 2017). The statement called for structural reform, including changing the constitution and the establishment of a Voice to Parliament.

On October 14, 2023, a national referendum was held as a result of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The referendum allowed Australians to vote on whether or not Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be recognised in the Australian Constitution, and the establishment of an advisory Voice to Parliament made up of First Nations people. The vote was not successful.

Read Tyson Holloway-Clarke’s post-referendum analysis here.

May 27 - June 3: Reconciliation Week

National Reconciliation Week commences on the anniversary of the 1967 referendum and ends on Mabo Day. 

It’s a time for people to reflect on reconciliation in Australia, keeping in mind that the word “reconciliation” is considered problematic by some. One of the reasons is because reconciliation means “the restoration of friendly relations”.

For us, the week is about non-Indigenous people taking responsibility for building stronger, more respectful relationships with First Nations communities. It’s about being better allies, by recognising and centering First Nations people as the sovereign and original people of this place we call home.

Learn more about National Reconciliation Week and the 2024 theme ‘Now More Than Ever’.

May 29: Torres Strait Islander Flag Day

Set in the middle of National Reconciliation Week, on this day in 1992, the Torres Strait Islander flag was officially presented to the people of Zenadth Kes (the Torres Strait Islands) at the sixth Torres Strait Cultural Festival. 

The flag illustrates the deep connections Torres Strait Islander People have with the sky, sea and islands of the Torres Strait.

Learn more about the Torres Strait Islander flag.

June 3: Mabo Day

On 3 June 1992, the High Court ruled that terra nullius should never have been applied to Australia in the historic Mabo decision. This paved the way for the Native Title Act (1993).

The Mabo decision was named after Eddie Koiki Mabo. He led the challenge alongside Father Dave Passi, Sam Passi, Celuia Mapoo Salee and James Rice. They staunchly advocated for their rights as the Traditional Owners of the island of Mer. 

Learn more about the Mabo decision and native title.

June 12: Anniversary of the Barunga Statement 

On 12 June 1988, the Barunga Statement was presented to Prime Minister Bob Hawke at the annual Barunga cultural and sporting festival.

The statement was written on bark and called for self-determination, a national system of land rights, compensation, an end to discrimination, respect for Aboriginal identity, and the granting of social, economic and cultural rights.

The Prime Minister responded by expressing that he would create a treaty between Aboriginal people and wider Australia by 1990. This commitment has never been fulfilled.

Learn more about the Barunga Statement.

July 7-14: National NAIDOC Week

NAIDOC Week is about celebrating First Nations people, cultures and stories. It’s about acknowledging First Nations excellence and centering the deep knowledge First Nations people hold. It’s also about acknowledging our history of activism and protest, and centering truth-telling

As Gamilaraay and Kooma man, Boe Spearim, writes, “The origins of NAIDOC Week can be traced back to the Aboriginal rights movement.”

This year the national NAIDOC theme is: Keep the Fire Burning! Blak, Loud and Proud.

July 9: Anniversary of the Aboriginal Flag being flown

The Aboriginal flag was designed by Luritja and Wambaya man Harold Thomas. It was first flown at Victoria Square in Adelaide on National Aborigines* Day in 1971. 

The following year it became the official flag for the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra after it was first flown there in 1972. 

*This term is now considered outdated and offensive.

Learn more about the Aboriginal flag.

August 4: National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day

Children’s Day is held annually on 4 August. It’s a national day dedicated to celebrating First Nations youngfullas.

The day is an initiative of SNAIIC - National Voice for our Children. The first Children’s Day was in 1988, established against the backdrop of protests led by First Nations people and allies to mark the 200-year anniversary of British invasion.

The date August 4 was historically used to celebrate the birthdays of First Nations children who were taken from their families at a young age without knowing their birthday.

Learn more about Children's Day.

August 9: International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

On December 23, 1994, the United Nations General Assembly decided that the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples will be held annually on 9 August. The date marks the first day the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations held a meeting in 1982.

According to the United Nations, there are over 476 million Indigenous peoples living in 90 countries across the world, accounting for 6.2% of the global population.

Learn more about the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples.

August 13: Anniversary of the Yirrkala Bark Petitions

On August 13, 1963, Yolŋu people from Yirrkala community in north-east Arnhem Land presented the Australian Parliament with two petitions. One written in Yolŋu Matha and the other in English.

These petitions are known as the Yirrkala bark petitions and mark the beginning of the modern land rights movement. The petitions were a response to a unilateral decision by the Menzies Government to open a bauxite mine at Yirrkala. Bauxite is the main raw material used in the commercial production of aluminium.

The petitions were pasted onto bark that had been traditionally painted. They demanded the inherent land rights of Traditional Owners be respected.

Learn more about land rights in the Northern Territory.

August 23: Anniversary of the Gurindji Wave Hill Walk-Off

On 23 August 1966, the Gurindji people made history with the Wave Hill Walk-Off. The Wave Hill Walk-Off started as a strike for better wages and working conditions at the Wave Hill cattle station in the Northern Territory. The strike soon became more than that, leading to a seven-year action for land rights.

Gurindji man and elected leader of the strike, Vincent Lingiari, knew the land they worked on belonged to Gurindji people and demanded it be returned. “You can keep your gold. We just want our land back,” he famously said.

Learn more about the Wave Hill Walk-Off.

August 25: South Sea Islander National Recognition 

While not First Nations to Australia, South Sea Islander community is part of Australia’s Black history.

On this day in 1994, then Prime Minister Paul Keating officially recognised South Sea Islanders as a distinct cultural group. This was followed by a formal Recognition Statement by the Queensland Government in September 2000, which acknowledged the incredible contributions of South Sea Islanders to the development of Queensland, as well as the injustices perpetrated by white Australia.

Learn more about South Sea Islander Recognition Day.

August 26: Three Year Anniversary of Waddananggu 

Waddanganggu means ‘the talking’ in Wirdi language. It is a ceremony on Wangan and Jagalingou Country in the Galilee Basin, Central Queensland. 

On 26 August 2021, Wangan and Jagalingou people set up a stone Bora ring and ceremonial ground opposite Adani’s Carmichael Mine. Since then, at least one Wangan and Jagalingou person has been inside the Bora ring, ensuring the sacred fire continues. Wangan and Jagalingou people are asserting their human rights as Traditional Owners to practice culture on Country.

Learn more about Waddananggu.

September 7: Indigenous Literacy Day

Indigenous Literacy Day is presented by the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. It’s an opportunity to advocate for, promote and celebrate First Nations stories and language. 

This year will be the 14th Indigenous Literacy Day and national celebration.

Learn more about Indigenous Literacy Day.

September 25: Anniversary of Cathy Freeman Winning Gold at the Olympics

Cathy Freeman is a Kuku Yalanji and Burri Gubba woman. She won the gold medal in the 400m at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. She was the first Aboriginal person to be an Athletics Olympic Champion.

I feel like I’m being protected. My Ancestors were the first people to walk on this land. It’s a really powerful force. Those other girls were always going to have to come up against my Ancestors. For the first time, I feel the stadium, I feel the people, I feel the energy. I feel like I’m being carried. I know exactly what I need to do. I know how to do this. I can do this in my sleep. I can win this. Will win this. Who can stop me?

In 2007, Cathy established the Cathy Freeman Foundation to support First Nations children and families achieve their education dreams.

Learn more about Cathy Freeman.

October 26: Anniversary of the Uluru Handback 

Uluru is sacred to Anangu people. It is central to their Dreaming stories and Law (Tjukurpa). Anangu people lobbied for the return of their ancestral lands for decades.

The Uluru handback took place at the base of Uluru on 26 October 1985. Hundreds of First Nations and non-Indigenous people looked on as the Governor-General passed over the title deeds for Uluru–Kata Tjuta to Anangu people.

The Uluru climb was closed permanently on 26 October 2019, on the 34th anniversary of the handback.

Learn more about the Uluru handback.

December 10: Human Rights Day

Human Rights Day is held every year on 10 December. This was the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948.

The UDHR is an important document and milestone. It states the rights that every human being is entitled to, “regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” It’s available in more than 500 languages, making it the most translated document in the world.

First Nations people often have to work harder to protect our human rights because of systemic racism and deep-rooted forms of discrimination.

Learn more about Human Rights Day.

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