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Note: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains names and images of deceased people.

"Always was, always will be.” 

That’s the phrase popularised by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander activists — and now adopted by Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians alike — to recognise the land rights of First Nations people. 

It’s also the theme of this year’s National Aboriginal and Islander Day of Celebrations Week (NAIDOC) Week. 

NAIDOC sees Australians across the country reflect, acknowledge and celebrate Indigenous culture, achievements and history, which dates back 65,000 years and thousands of generations. 

To honour NAIDOC Week 2020, Global Citizen has compiled a short list of just some of the most monumental moments in Indigenous history over the past 20 years — everything from the national apology and the return of Mungo Man, to the reconciliation walk and the #RaiseTheAge Campaign.

Some of these moments show incredible progress; others are fraught with racism and discrimination; some seem purely symbolic. It’s clear, significant work is still required to achieve a just, equitable and reconciled Australia.

1. 2000 — Sydney Harbour Bridge Reconciliation Walk

On May 28, 2000, more than 250,000 Australians walked across the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge in what is now recognised as the largest display of public support for a single cause in Australian history. The march was a public show of unity by Australia’s non-Indigenous population to Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

2. 2009 — Australia Supports the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 

Australia finally adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on April 3 after more than two decades of negotiations. Before signing, Australia was one of just four countries to oppose the communiqué.

3. 2008 — National Apology to the Stolen Generations 

Then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a formal apology to Indigenous Australians affected by the Stolen Generation. The Stolen Generation refers to a past government policy that saw Indigenous children forcibly removed by government agencies and sent to institutions or white foster families between 1910 and 1970. The policy’s goal was to end Aboriginal culture and people entirely through assimilation.

4. 2010 — First Indigenous Person Elected to the House of Representatives

Ken Wyatt, a Noongar man from Western Australia, officially became the first Indigenous member of the House of Representatives on Aug. 21, 2010. Wyatt followed in the footsteps of Neville Bonner, who became the first Indigenous member of Parliament in 1971.

5. 2016 — Footage of Aboriginal Woman Dying in Police Custody Sparks Outrage 

In late 2016, video footage of a 22-year-old Indigenous woman in police custody sent shockwaves across the country and reignited protests over police brutality. Footage showed police dropping the woman, known as Ms. Dhu, on her head, before pulling her limp body to a police truck. Since 1991, there have been more than 400 recorded Indigenous deaths in custody. 

6. 2017 — Australia's Oldest Human Remains Finally Return Home 

The remains of the oldest known Australian, referred to as Mungo Man, were returned to their original resting place in New South Wales in 2017, 43 years after they were first discovered and transferred to the Australian National University. For more than a century, non-Indigenous Australians dug up and collected the skeletal remains of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, despite their objection and resentment.

7. 2019 — Australia Appoints an Indigenous Person as Minister for Indigenous Affairs for the First Time 

Wyatt, the first Indigenous person to be elected to the House of Representatives, was sworn into cabinet in June 2019 as the first Indigenous minister of Indigenous Affairs. Wyatt is also the first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person ever appointed to Australia's cabinet.

8. 2019 — Climbing Uluru Disallowed 

Climbing Uluru, a highly-popular tourist attraction, officially came to an end on Oct. 26, 2019 — 34 years after the traditional custodians of the land were handed back the land rights from Australian authorities. Those caught climbing Australia’s most famous natural landmark will now be slapped with a $6,300 fine.

9. 2020 — #RaiseTheAge Campaign Gains Momentum 

The campaign calling for the increase to Australia’s age of criminal responsibility, the age at which children can be arrested or locked up, from 10 to 14 kicked off in June. The current legislation disproportionately affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. No federal or state government has changed its laws. 

10. 2020 — Juukan Gorge Cave Destroyed by Rio Tinto 

Rio Tinto, the world's biggest iron ore miner, demolished two culturally significant Indigenous shelters in Western Australia during a state-approved mine expansion in the first half of 2020. The 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge cave was the only inland site in Australia to show human occupation that continued through the last Ice Age.

The destruction was a “misunderstanding,” according to Rio Tinto. 


Demand Equity

10 Monumental Moments in Indigenous Australian History From the Past 20 Years

By Madeleine Keck