Timeline of Aboriginal History of Western Australia - 1943 To The Present

1943 To The Present

This period began with the Great Stockman's Strike of 1946. It, like the other periods, can be divided into two by the events of 1967, in which Aboriginal people were recognised as Australian, and by the passage of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, which for the first time since 1829 recognised Aboriginal people as equal under Australian law. The passing of the Mabo and Wik High Court Decisions, which recognised Aboriginal people as in possession of the land at the date of European settlement, is an appendix to these changes. This period is still not complete, as the Western Australian Labor government is still resisting the Native Title claim of the Noongar people.

  • 1947 - The New Coolbaroo League founded by the young activist, Helena Clarke from Port Hedland, Yamatji brothers Jack and Bill Poland, and their wadjela friend, Geoff Harcus, aims to begin lobbying to allow Aborigines to legally begin living in Perth once again. Taking its name from the Yamatji word for Magpie it was a hope for reconciliation between black and white. Helena Murphy (née Clarke), a founding member, saw it as representing identity and people of mixed ancestry; while others felt it expressed a desire for collaboration and change. The Coolbaroo League became part of a wider movement for Aboriginal rights. It raised awareness of issues affecting Aboriginal people, including the restricted entry for Noongars into the inner city.
  • 1950 – and following years. Attempts were made to evacuate the last traditional Aboriginal people from the Western Desert in order to clear the area for British Blue Streak missile testing from the Woomera Rocket Range. Government attempts to oppose a private member's bill extending citizenship to children of Aboriginal citizens.
  • 1951 The citizenship clause of Aborigines was amended so that they now had to get approval of both a magistrate and a representative of the local municipality, reducing the chances for Aborigines to become citizens. The Korean War minerals boom brings prosperity to Aborigines on strike in the north west. With these profits Aboriginal strikers were able to purchase five stations centred upon Yandereena. This is the first new land owned by Aborigines since before 1911. A hospital, school and accommodation for the aged is established by the first self-determinating Aboriginal group since Katanning. Don McLeod enters into partnership with the Adelaide syndicate Western Wolfram and then the world prices fell.
Nedlands Road Board, without warning sends a bulldozer and destroys the Swanbourne Aboriginal campsite, without replacing homes for the displaced. no-one complained and the media reports applauded the Road Board action.
More than 50% of Kimberley population is found to have trachoma to some extent.
  • January 1952 A new Native Welfare Council is formed with branches in country towns. With the support and covert assistance of Middleton, to extend citizenship to all Aboriginal people.
  • 1953 The Coolbaroo League publishes its first bi-monthly newspaper, Westralian Aborigine. It offered an alternative to the mainstream press and was significant in that it had Aboriginal editorial control and gave a voice to Noongar people. The paper had some 600 subscribers. The Coolbaroo dances were advertised there, as well as jobs. Sometimes, you could just be looking for a person you'd not seen in a while.
  • April 1954 Queen Elizabeth II in her tour of Western Australia "crowns" David Beaufort's lineal descendant as "king of the Bibulmun"
  • 1954 A new Native Welfare Act in 1954 did nothing to limit these removal powers under the 1936 Act, which continued unabated. However amendments to the Native Welfare Act in 1963 repealed all previous legislation and abolished the Chief Protector's powers to remove children of Aboriginal descent from their biological parents. Nevertheless the removal of Aboriginal children continued under the arbitrary implementation of the broad provisions of the Child Welfare Act of 1947. The prohibited area was finally abandoned in 1954, when the Coolbaroo League was allowed to hold a ball at the Perth Town Hall.
  • 1972 a departmental reorganisation resulted in the functions of the then Native Welfare Department being split between two new Departments, the Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority (AAPA) and the Department of Community Welfare (now the Department for Community Development), responsible for the care and placement of Aboriginal children in the welfare sector. The creation of the AAPA led to the end of the "Stolen Generation" as for the first time policies were enacted which allowed children of Aboriginal descent, considered at risk of neglect, to be fostered first and foremost by other members of their families. In this way, a century of acute suffering finally came to an end, leaving a legacy of extensive cultural genocide of Aboriginal groups south of the 26th parallel.
  • 16 October 1987 Prime Minister Robert Hawke launched the Muirhead Royal Commission Inquiry into Deaths in Custody which found Western Australia had the greatest number of cases to be heard, with 36 deaths being reported to the Commission. Of those, 32 were found to be within jurisdiction and reported upon.
  • 28 June 1988 with the hearing into the death of Charles Michael. Due to the enormity of the task in Western Australia with the number of deaths to be investigated and size of the State, it was decided that another Commissioner was needed to assist with the conduct of inquiries in this State.
  • 27 October 1988 Commonwealth Letters Patent issued to conduct inquiries into the deaths of Aboriginals who had died in custody in Western Australia and elsewhere in Australia as directed by Commissioner Muirhead.
  • 30 May 1989 Presentation of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Very many of the recommendations were never implemented, leading to a continuation of the problem of Aboriginal deaths in custody.
  • 3 June 1992, The Ruling of the Australian Supreme Court, under Justice Gerard Brennan, in the case Eddie Mabo versus the state of Queensland (2) accepts for the first time in Australian history that Indigenous people do have legal rights to land in Australia, and that the legal ruling terra nullius was not a legal situation.
  • 10 December 1992 In launching the International Year of Indigenous Peoples, Prime Minister Paul Keating in his Redfern Address stated "It was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases. The alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practised discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice. And our failure to imagine these things being done to us."
  • October 1994 the Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. addressing the Going Home Conference in Darwin, announced he would be writing to Michael Levarch, the Attorney-General, with the suggestion that the Equal Rights and Opportunities Commission investigate why thousands of Aboriginal children had been separated from their families and communities in the 20th century.
  • 1994 Australian Bureau of Statistics finds that 10.1% of aboriginals aged between twenty five years of age and 44 years of age had been separated from their families, and 10.6% of those aged more than 44 had suffered the same.
  • 1 June 1995 Formation of the Indigenous Land Corporation, a Commonwealth statutory authority with national responsibilities to assist Indigenous peoples to acquire land and to manage Indigenous-held land. The ILC has a seven-member board, appointed by the Minister for Indigenous Affairs. The Chairperson and at least four other members of the Board must be Indigenous. The ILC Board makes all policy and land acquisition decisions, following the Mabo decision and Federal legislation.
  • 1996 inquiry headed by Sir Ronald Wilson, former High Court Judge and President of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, and Mick Dodson, Social Justice Commissioner, takes 2 years collecting oral and written evidence across Australia, with assistance of all Australian governments except the Howard Commonwealth Government, which denied them access to Northern Territory records, and refused the inquiry's request for additional funds. Dr Eric Hunter conducted a report on Aborigines in the Kimberley and found that one quarter of elderly Aborigines and one in seven of those middle aged had been separated from their families.
  • December 1996 the Wik People versus Queensland case demonstrates that pastoral agreements do not extinguish native title as established under the Mabo judgement. This in 1998 required modification of the Native Title Tribunal legislation of 1994.
  • 26 May 1997 The Bringing Them Home Report also called "Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families", presented to Federal Government, confirms that Aboriginal people from 1910 until the 1970s saw the removal of between one in three to one in ten Aboriginal children who had suffered "gross violation of their human rights" and comprised "an act of genocide, aimed at wiping out Indigenous families, communities and cultures".
  • June 1997 Australians for Native Title launch the "Sorry Book" initiative giving ordinary Australians a chance to respond to the failure of the Federal Government to give an unreserved apology under the findings of the Bringing them Home Report. The books became a popular way for ordinary Australians to express their desires for Reconciliation.
  • 6 September 1997, Robert Bropho sues cartoonist Dean Acheson of the Western Australian for a cartoon that pointed offensively to the struggle amongst Western Australian Noongars after the return of Yaga's head to the state.
  • 26 May 1998 declared "Sorry Day" as an annual day of celebration of reconciliation between Aboriginal communities and non-Indigenous Australians.
  • 6 March 2000 Richard Court, Premier of Western Australia fails to achieve modification of Native Title Legislation, modelled upon the failed Liberal Federal Government legislation in the Northern Territory, after having spent millions of dollars of tax payers money in an attempt to secure the extinguishment of native title on pastoral leases in Western Australia, in contravention of the Wik ruling.
  • 2000 the Spinifex People of the Eastern Wangai are the second Western Australian group to be awarded lands under the Native Title ruling,
  • December 2002 the Gordon Inquiry, "Putting People First" tabled in Western Australian parliament. The report stressed
  • The urgent need to strengthen and improve responses to abuse and violence in Aboriginal communities.
  • The need for long term strategies and solutions to address the endemic nature of abuse and violence in many communities.
  • Meeting the needs of current and future generations of Aboriginal children through simultaneous, long-term environmental, social and economic improvements that will result in sustainable communities.
  • 10 August 2004 the collection of 461 Sorry Books out of the estimated 1,000 that were produced held by the AIATSIS Library was inscribed on the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Register.
  • 2005 Roelands Mission site acquired by the Indigenous Land Corporation for the Woolkabunning Kiaka Association, representing the former residents. Ms Shirley McPherson, Chairperson of the Indigenous Land Corporation, said that the ILC’s ability to move quickly on an application from the Woolkabunning Kiaka Association, representing the former residents, demonstrated the soundness of its application processes.
  • 2006 Amendment to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act of 2005 to establish Indigenous Business Australia, a Corporation with an independent Board, responsible to the Minister of Indigenous Affairs to engage in commercial activities and to promote and encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-management and economic self-sufficiency.
  • 16 September 2006 The ruling by Supreme Court Judge Wilcox in the Bennell versus Western Australia case, confirms the survival of the Noongar people and their customary title to lands of the south west corner of Western Australia. "Justice Wilcox found the Noongar community had continued to exist despite the descent system being disrupted through mixed marriage and people being forced off their land and dispersed to other areas as a result of European settlement. Justice Wilcox said families had kept in contact. Many, if not most, children learned at least some Noongar language while traditional skills, beliefs and as much as possible, land laws, had been preserved. As a consequence, Justice Wilcox found there was a case for native title". The Labor Party Government of Alan Carpenter announces that they will appeal against the deal.
  • 14 May 2007 ABC Lateline program reports graphic details of rampant sexual abuse of Aboriginal children, following from the Roger's report on “Child Sexual Assault and Some Cultural Issues in the Northern Territory.”
  • 21 May 2007 Report finds that Aboriginal people are "grossly disadvantaged in negotiations with miners because the Native Title Tribunal has failed for more than a decade to exercise its veto over mining leases". As a result companies have known leases would be granted even if negotiations failed. As a result Aboriginal groups have been forced to agree to "grossly inadequate compensation packages", because their "hands are tied behind their backs". As a result Aboriginal groups are seriously missing out on the resources boom currently propelling growth in the Australian economy.
  • 31 May 2007 The Western Australian State Government announces on the 40th Anniversary of the Referendum that it will investigate wages stolen from Aboriginal people. Up to 75% of all Aboriginal Wages paid to Aboriginal people according to provisions of the 1905 Aboriginal Act were held in a Trust Account by state government and never repaid, following the "Stolen Wages" enquiry of the Australian Federal Senate. Brian Wyatt of the Goldfields Land and Sea Council, announces for the Goldfields Region alone the amount could amount to $150 million. The NSW Government set up a compensation scheme in 2005, and the Queensland government set up a special compensation fund of $56 million in 2002.
  • 21 June 2007 Australia’s Aborigines were stripped of the right of self-rule after the Government declared the widespread sexual abuse of Aboriginal children to be a national emergency equivalent to the Katrina Hurricane in the USA. John Howard, the Prime Minister, banned the sale of alcohol across an area the size of France and imposed restrictions on access to pornography. He also announced tight controls on welfare benefits, which will be cut if children fail to attend school. Aboriginal families will be required to spend at least half their fortnightly welfare on food and essentials.
  • 25 July 2007 The Federal Government Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Mal Brough announces his intention to abolish the Community Development Employment Program, a "work for the dole scheme" which enabled Aboriginal people in many remote areas to obtain work working in not-for-profit Aboriginal-run organisations providing subsidised services to remote Aboriginal communities, not provided by conventional government or industry. As this is the major source of employment for these areas, unemployment in remote Aboriginal communities is likely to rise from 30% to over 50%, and the quality of life experienced by people living in such centres is expected to fall.
  • 5 August 2007 The high rate of suicide in indigenous communities in Western Australia will be scrutinised by the State Coroner, Alastair Hope. The ABC reported the coordinator of the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre, Wes Morris, says there was a recent public meeting of 180 residents concerned about the high number of suicides. "In addition to the suicides there is also the large number of accidental deaths and we know that one of the root causes of both the suicides and the accidental deaths is the high rate of alcohol use in this community," he said. "There's absolute despair in the community. There's so many families within the community who have been affected in such a deep and personal way."
  • 5 September 2007 The results of the 2006 Census show the average life expectancy of Aboriginal people is 17 years less than non-Aboriginal Western Australians. Survival at birth for Aboriginal people in Western Australia is less than that for rural Bangladesh.
  • 14 November 2007 The Hope Inquest into Aboriginal Deaths in Fitzroy Crossing, held in Broome, Western Australia, is told that the WA Department of Indigenous Affairs lacks a plan for indigenous public housing, drugs, alcohol or life skills in the Kimberley.
  • 26 November 2007 The election of the Rudd Labor government, puts many of the Aboriginal changes foreshadowed by John Howard's Liberal Party government on hold. Kevin Rudd indicates that he will give a formal apology to the Aboriginal people for their suffering as a part of the Stolen Generations.
  • 13 February 2008 Sir William Deane and former Prime Ministers Paul Keating, Bob Hawke, Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser were all seated on the floor of the Parliament to hear Prime Minister Kevin Rudd deliver upon the recommendation of the "Bringing them Home" report, a formal apology on the part of the Australian nation for the suffering inflicted as a result of the stolen generations. Conspicuous by his absence was the former Prime Minister, John Howard. Western Australian polls show this state to be least in favour of an apology.
  • 26 February 2008 The final report of the Hope Coroner's report into 22 deaths in the Kimberley reports that conditions have been worsening, remedial education is not available for children who get left behind in education, fetal alcohol syndrome stunts the development of many Aboriginal children, and suicide rates are high. Despite spending $1.2 million a year on the problems, there was a lack of leadership at State and Commonwealth levels and the funding was divided between 22 non-government and government programs. The Aboriginal owned pub at Fitzroy Crossing, has not returned profits to the owners in 18 years (all profits being taken by white managers). The government is accused of ignoring the earlier report of General John Sanderson in these issues Carol Martin, the first Aboriginal woman in Western Australian parliament, says that the Hope report has nothing that people did not already know. The Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre (KALACC) says that despite their submission there was no recommendation concerning specialised services for the young.
  • 28 February 2008 Aboriginal leader Robert Bropho is jailed for 3 years for pedophilia. District Court judge Peter Nisbet said Bropho, 78, was arrogant, a bully and a repeat liar who had committed an act of "cynical depravity" when he bailed the young girl out of a juvenile detention centre, then raped her on the way home. After hearing DNA evidence, Judge Nisbet found Bropho was the father of two of the victim's children
  • February 2012 A Noongar Tent Embassy set up on Heirisson Island to oppose the West Australian government's proposed $1 billion over 10 year native title deal with southwest Aborigines. After 3 police raids the tents were removed by WA Police on 22 March.
  • 6th March 2012 Under past legislation such as the Aborigines Act 1905 and the Native Welfare Act 1963, employers of Aboriginal people, including successive state governments between 1905 and 1972, held 75% of the wages and property belonging to Aboriginal people in a complex network of trust accounts, which was never delivered to them. The Western Australian Government announced that it would recompense each Aboriginal person still living and able to give evidence that entitlements were withheld from them $2,000 for these Stolen Wages, becoming the 3rd Australian state to attempt some reimbursement. Indigenous Affairs Minister Peter Collier said most of the documentation about the accounts and monies held in trust had been lost, along with verification of who was affected and how much was held. Payments for Aboriginal victims of Stolen Wages were labelled “an insult” by local Aboriginal businessman and cultural awareness trainer Kado Muir.

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