4th May 1816

In May 1816 Governor Lachlan Macquarie proclaimed that ‘the Natives’ who chose to be protected by the British Government would be provided with passports and treated as community members if they laid down their weapons.  If they gave up their nomadic lifestyle they would be granted small parcels of Crown land on which they could settle and farm.  But Aboriginal people did not want ownership.  They wanted to continue to treat with respect the land which they had lived on and cared for over more than forty thousand years.

This was one of the initial attempts to assimilate the Aboriginal people. They would have to forego their lifestyle, cultural practices, language and known existence, and take on a foreign way of life, culture and language in their colonised land.

The proclamation claimed that the Government had responded with utmost leniency and humanity towards the Aboriginal people who had treated the early settlers with hostility, killing men, women, children and cattle.  The Government claimed it was forced to resort to strong measures to ensure that the Indigenous people didn’t repeat the offence, saying that it had acted with strength, only killing innocent women and children in order to strike terror amongst the surviving Tribes and deter them from retaliating against the colony.



Benjamin Boyd and the Introduction of Slavery to Australia.

Born in 1801, Benjamin Boyd was a Scottish merchant and entrepreneur.  He arrived  in Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) on 18 July 1842 and was granted permission to buy land along the coast and adjacent islands in the Pacific to establish coaling stations.  He intended to set up a communication passage between the settlements with large steamships.   His ventures were financed by the Royal Bank of Australia which had formed in London in 1839 with a nominal capital of £1,000,000 and debentures of £200,000.

Benjamin Boyd quickly became one of the largest landowners in Sydney; by 1844 he owned over one million hectares of land stocked with 20,000 sheep and 10,000 cattle.   In 1847 he resolved his labour problem by bringing 200 people from the Pacific Islands to work his properties.  He paid them only rations, and many died from the cold and disease.

Many local workers objected to Boyd’s use of native labour as it threatened the standard of living of new settlers.   He claimed that the recruits came at their own free will, although many workers denied this.  Charges of forced labour were investigated by the attorney-general in Sydney, but  in December 1847 Sir Charles FitzRoy reported to the Colonial Office that they were unsubstantiated.

The Abolition of Slavery in the United States was ratified on 6 December 1865, threatening their profitable  cotton trade.  In Australia, however, where slavery was not abolished, the increased demand for cheaply produced cotton, and for Queensland’s new sugar industry, provided the context for the trade of ‘blackbirding’, as people were kidnapped from the Pacific Islands to work as ‘Sugar Slaves’.


Aborigines Protection Board – NSW

The notorious Aborigines Protection Board was established on 2 June 1883, comprising six inaugural members appointed by the Governor Lord Augustus Loftus. The Board held weekly meetings to discuss and implement strategies of how to manage, house and protect the Aboriginal people of New South Wales.

The Board had no statutory authority until the passing of the Aborigines Protection Act 1909, which empowered them to remove Aboriginal children if they deemed that to be to the child’s moral or physical advantage.


Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act – QLD

The Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act was introduced in Queensland in 1897, providing designated ‘Aboriginal Protectors’ – settlement superintendents, police and missionaries – the power to remove Aboriginal people from their lands and detain them on Government controlled reserves.

As time passed the reserves became labour reservoirs from which Aboriginal contract workers could be drafted to white rural and urban employers. It was possible to remove children from their families and send them to work on properties far from the reserve, sometimes indefinitely. Here, they had little protection from abuse, misconduct and ultimately, slavery.



1st January 1901

The Australian Constitution was passed by the British Government on the 1  January 1901, and signed off by Queen Victoria herself.  The six colonies of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia united to form the Commonwealth of Australia, a single and independent country.

The Constitution provided the Federal Government with the laws by which they ruled the country.  However section 27 stated: ‘In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted.’  Thereby, from the birth of Australia, Aboriginal people were not counted as Australian Citizens and had no rights, but were legally known as Flora and Fauna.


The Immigration Act of 1901
AKA The White Australia Policy

In order to prioritise British access to the economic benefits of the land, one of the first laws passed by the newly founded Australian government was the Immigration Act of 1901, effectively implementing the White Australia Policy.  This limited the immigration of people from non-European backgrounds and ultimately ended the employment of Pacific and South Sea Islanders in Queensland and New South Wales, whose low-wage employment was seen as a threat to the job availability and the standard of living expected by white Australians.  In the first years of the twentieth century, the government rounded up most of the Islander workforce, and some Aboriginal people, and returned them to the Pacific Islands, although not necessarily to the island of their origin.


1909 The Stolen Generation in New South Wales Begins
Aborigines Protection Act 1909 (NSW)

The 1909 NSW Aborigines Protection Act was the first Act in New South Wales that dealt specifically with Aboriginal people who resided in the state.  It established the NSW Aborigines Protection Board with the responsibility to protect Aboriginal people from harm.  The Protection Board could legally remove Aboriginal people from their homes and confine them on managed reserves, usually kilometres from developed towns.

Special provisions empowered the Board to remove children from their parents entirely, and contract them to work. This is the start of the Stolen Generation in New South Wales, and the beginning of indentured servitude. Aboriginal children were treated as wards of the state, and the Board had the legal right, resources and ability to force children into servitude for little or no payment.


Aborigine – any ‘full blooded aboriginal native of Australia, and any person apparently having an admixture of aboriginal blood who applies for or is in receipt of rations or aid from the Board or is living on a reserve.

Neglected child – a child found by the court to be neglected under the Neglected Children and Juvenile Offenders Act 1909

Key Provisions – Duty of the Board to provide for the custody, maintenance and education of the children of ‘aborigines.’ Board may apprentice the child of any aborigine or neglected child of any person apparently having an admixture of aboriginal blood in his veins subjected to the Apprentices Act 1901 (The Apprentices Act 1901 provided for a minimum age of 14 years for apprentices and regulated the terms and conditions of apprenticeships.)



1910 (SA)
Northern Territory Aboriginals Act

This Act established the Northern Territory Aboriginals Department with responsibility for the control and welfare of Aborigines, and ‘to provide where possible for the custody, maintenance and education of the children of aboriginals’.  Similar to the Aborigines Protection Act 1909 in New South Wales, the Chief Protector was made the legal guardian of all Aboriginal children, who could be removed from their families into state control for minimal instruction before being contracted to work.

Successive Aborigines Ordinances continued this regime of removal and contracted work until the late 1960s.

Key provisions

Provides for the removal, detention and re-location of Aboriginal people on reserves. Chief Protector made the legal guardian of every ‘aboriginal child’ notwithstanding that any such child has a parent or living relative, until such child attains the age of 18 except while the child is a State Child (under the  State Children’s Act 1895 (SA)). Regulations may be made for the ‘care, custody and education of the children of aboriginals’; providing for the transfer of any ‘aboriginal’ or ‘half-caste’ child to an ‘aboriginal institution’ or industrial school; for the control, care and education of ‘aboriginal’ or ‘half-caste’ children in ‘aboriginal institutions’; for the supervision of such institutions and for the terms of apprenticeship or service for ‘aboriginal children’.


(NSW) Aborigines Protection Act

The 1915 Act  significantly increased the powers of the Aborigines Protection Board and controls over Aboriginal children. The Board could now act as parents to the Aboriginal children, and no longer needed a court order to remove them from their families to government stations.

Forcing Children To Work

All Aboriginal children on government stations now had to work.

‘Every able bodied aborigine, half-caste and other person resident on one of the Board’s Stations shall do a reasonable amount of work as directed by the Manager. Anyone persistently refusing to do the work when required shall have all supplies for himself and his family withdrawn until he resumes work and shall be liable to be removed from the station.’

Ultimate Power of Removal

The Act was amended to remove the requirement that an Aboriginal child had to be found to be neglected before the Board could remove him / her.

This gave the power to remove ANY child from their mother’s arms at will.

‘Apprenticeship of children by the Board no longer subject to the apprentices Act 1901. The Board may apprentice children on such terms and conditions as it may think under the circumstances of the case to be desirable. Every child so apprenticed who refuses to go to the person to whom the Board has for the purpose of being trained, to some home or institution as the Board may arrange. (Repealed by Aborigines Act 1969)’

Key Provisions – The Board may assume full control and custody of the child of any aborigine if after due inquiry it is satisfied that such a course is in the interest of the moral or physical welfare of such child. And remove such child to such control and care as it thinks best. Parents of a child removed in this way may appeal to a court.

1940 – 1945

1940 – 1945
The Second World War

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women at first weren’t conscripted to fight in the war. Many non Indigenous Australian service men and women would not fight alongside Indigenous people.

Many Indigenous people were against fighting for the land of which was taken from them, and likened the treatment Hitler inflicted upon the Jews, to their own by the new colony.

When Japan entered the War, the threat that Australia was under significantly increased to a state of national emergency with the Australian government widening its eligibility to allow more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to register for the armed services. It was there, on the warfront that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women were treated equally, a contrast of life at home where they were treated as second class people, not even citizens.

Upon their return however, they were still not treated equally with many of the service men and women returning home to a broken family, with their children removed from their care and custody.



Right to vote in the Federal Elections

Up until 1957 most of the Aboriginal people around Australia were considered to be wards of the state. Still without equal rights on a national scale, Aboriginal people were not permitted to vote in the federal elections.

In 1962 the Menzies government amended the Commonwealth Electoral Act (1918) providing Aboriginal people with the right to vote in federal elections. Queensland became the last state to remove restrictions on Indigenous voting in state elections.

In 1961 a Commonwealth Parliamentary Committee was set up to investigate and report to the Parliament on Indigenous voting rights. It recommended that all Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders who did not already have the vote should be allowed to vote in Commonwealth elections.

In March 1962 the Commonwealth Electoral Act was amended to provide that Indigenous people could enrol to vote in federal elections if they wished. Unlike other Australians it was not compulsory for them to enrol. It was also an offence for anyone to use undue influence or pressure to induce them to enrol. Once they enrolled, however, voting was compulsory. 

In 1962 the right to vote in state/territory elections was also extended to Indigenous people in the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

From this time, Indigenous people were encouraged to enrol to vote rather than discouraged from exercising their rights. Steps were taken to provide them with information about the electoral process, especially in the Northern Territory. Voter education programs were started and elections were held for Indigenous Community Councils so that people would gain experience in democratic processes.

Finally, in 1965, Indigenous people around Australia gained the same voting rights as other Australians when Queensland followed the other states and permitted Indigenous people to vote in state elections.

AEC Indigenous History


1967 – Referendum 

Once Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had the right to vote, politicians started to take them more seriously, realizing that in some areas Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were a significant voting bloc which could ultimately effect electoral outcomes. It was also recognised that the growing concern about giving Indigenous people a better deal could have an impact on electoral outcomes.

The 1967 Constitutional Referendum highlighted the extent of this concern.  In this Referendum, Australians voted overwhelmingly in favour of counting Indigenous people in census figures and allowing the Commonwealth to make special laws for their benefit.

This was a clear expression that the majority of Australians believed the Commonwealth should ensure Indigenous people were treated equally under the law, and should no longer be subjected to the legal disabilities as ‘protected’ people by which states around Australia had impaired their lives since white occupation.



1975 – The Racial Discrimination Act

As a signatory to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD 1965), Australia was obliged to eliminate racial discrimination and promote understanding among all races. In 1975 the Australian government passed the Racial Discrimination Act which applies to all people in Australia. The RDA makes racial discrimination against the law, and requires that everyone is treated equally, regardless of race, religion, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin.

The RDA overrides racially discriminatory State or Territory legislation.