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NAIDOC Week and the Day of Mourning

Posted by Network SA on Tuesday, July 04, 2017

NAIDOC Week celebrations are held across Australia each July to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. NAIDOC is celebrated not only in Indigenous communities, but by Australians from all walks of life. The week is a great opportunity to participate in a range of activities and to support your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. Click here

NAIDOC Week is held every year from the first Sunday to the second Sunday in July. Events are held all over Australia, the achievements of significant members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are recognised through NAIDOC Awards and everyone is encouraged to participate.

But how did NAIDOC begin?

The origins of NAIDOC can be traced back many years to the formation of activist groups by Aboriginal people to draw attention in the wider community of the status and treatment of Indigenous Australians.

Groups such as the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association (AAPA) founded in 1924 (but disbanded in 1927 after sustained harassment by authorities), the Australian Aborigines’ League(AAL) founded in 1934 and the Aborigines Progressive Association (APA) founded in 1937 campaigned for land rights, decision making power and the end of oppressive government policies.

A potent symbol of the loss of country and all that followed was the annual celebration held to commemorate the arrival of the British in 1788. By the 1930’s Aboriginal people had been boycotting Australia Day celebrations for many years in protest against their treatment, but were largely ignored. 

Australia Day 1938 saw a major public celebration in Sydney of the sesquicentenary or 150 years since the arrival of the British. Ceremonies included a re-enactment of the landing of Governor Philip and flag-raising at Sydney Cove, followed by a pageant with 120 motorised floats, stretching 1.5 miles, took one and a half hours to pass through the streets of Sydney. It was a huge event attended by dignitaries from every State.

The Victorian based Australian Aborigines’ League led by William Cooper joined forces with New South Wales Aborigines Progressive Association led by Bill Ferguson to protest the callous treatment of Aboriginal people. They nominated Australia Day 1938 as a Day of Mourning .

They saw no reason to celebrate the arrival of the first fleet which had led to loss of freedom, of homelands, and breaking down of culture, families and communities through oppressive laws. They called for education, new laws and citizenship status for Aboriginal Australians. More than 100 people joined the Day of Mourning march and congress.

26th January 1938
A large blackboard outside the Australian Hall in Sydney proclaims the site of the Day of Mourning conference.
Read more about the photograph above and the people in the picture here.

The conference passed the following motion:

"We, representing the Aborigines of Australia, assembled in conference at the Australian Hall, Sydney, on the 26th day of January, 1938, this being the 150th Anniversary of the Whiteman's seizure of our country, hereby make protest against the callous treatment of our people by the whitemen 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."

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 from western communities in NSW to Sydney to partake in the re-enactments. 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 of the First Fleet landing at Farm Cove (Wuganmagulya), the visiting group of Aboriginal people were featured on a float parading along Macquarie Street. http://www.sydneybarani.com.au/sites/significant-aboriginal-events-in-sydney/

Following the Day of Mourning, a deputation met with the Prime Minister, Mr Joe Lyons and his wife Enid Lyons (later Dame Enid). Many churches were convinced to declare the Sunday before Australia Day ‘Aboriginal Sunday’ with the first of these the 28th January 1940 continuing until 1955, when it moved to the first Sunday in July. The Day of Mourning and the events that followed eventually led to significant changes in government policy, including the 1967 referendum.

By 1957, the date of this observance was changed from January to July. The National Aborigines Day Observance Committee (NADOC) was formed and the day was called NADOC Day, a day of remembrance and celebration for Aboriginal people and heritage.

In 1972, the first NADOC poster was created. ‘Aborigines Day’ had become widely accepted as a day for Australians to come together in support of better rights for Indigenous people.

In 1991 NADOC became NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee), to recognise Torres Strait Islanders and to describe a whole week of recognition, rather than one day.

All Australians are encouraged to be part of the celebrations and activities that take place during NAIDOC Week. It is good to celebrate together. Let us remember too, the vision and courage of those who have dared to speak up against injustice and ignorance and be inspired to each play our own part in creating a strong future for every child.

Maureen McGuire
Network SA
4 July 2017 

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