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History of NAIDOC Week

National Aboriginal and Islander Day is the highlight of the year for Aboriginal and Islander people and their supporters. In all capital cities, and many regional communities, it is the focus for a week (known today as NAIDOC Week) of activities organised by the Aboriginal and Islander people to increase awareness and understanding of their heritage. Part of that heritage is the history of National Aboriginal and Islander Day.

Early History

A special day for Aboriginal and Islander people was first observed in 1938. But the day's origins can be found earlier still, in the history of a number of Aboriginal and Islander organisations.

From about 1924 to 1927, the Australian Aborigines' Progressive Association (AAPA) was active in Sydney, under the leadership of Fred Maynard. AAPA held three annual conferences but members were hounded by police and had to give up their work.

In 1932, William Cooper formed the Australian Aboriginal League in Melbourne, in protest at the conditions under which Aboriginal people were forced to live.

Cooper drafted a petition on the topic for presentation to King George V. the petition was signed by many Aboriginal people but the Commonwealth Government informed Cooper that presenting it would be an unconstitutional act.

In February 1935, Cooper called for a deputation to the Federal Minister for the Interior, asking for representation of Aboriginal people in Parliment, a unified and national Department of Native Affairs and state advisory councils on Aboriginal affairs. However, nothing came of this move.

On 27 June 1937, William Ferguson, the first Aboriginal person to stand for Parliment, called a public meeting in Dubbo, New South Wales, to establish the Aborigines' Progressive Association.

The First Aboriginal Day of Observance

In October 1937, William Cooper presented his royal petition to the Commonwealth Government, asking that it be delivered to the King. The government was slow to react.

On 13 November 1937, Cooper called a meeting of Aboriginal people, suggesting they hold a Day of Mourning to publicise their cause.

The following Australia Day, 26 January 1938, The Australian Aboriginal League and the Aboriginal Progressive Association combined to hold a Day of Mourning. The day marked the 150th anniversary of the first fleet's landing at Sydney Cove.

Cooper and William Ferguson planned the first Day of Mourning together. For the protest, Ferguson and J.T. Patten wrote a pamphlet entitled 'Aboriginies Claim Citizen Right.' It condemned the Aborigines Protection Act (1909-1936) of New South Wales and the Aborigines Protection Board. But, above all, it was an appeal for a new Aboriginal policy, full citizenship status, equality and land rights.

A Permanant Aboriginal Day in Australia

William Cooper believed a permanent Aboriginies' Day should be established. On 31 January 1939, he wrote to the National Missionary Council of Australia (NMCA), asking for its help in promoting a permanent Aborigines' Day.

The NMCA Aborigines Advisory Committee supported the idea. The Council agreed to inform various churches of the request for a special Aboriginal Sunday, but said such a day should not be connected with any Aboriginal Day of Mourning.

In January 1940, the Sunday before the Australia Day holiday became the first Aboriginal Sunday. Churches continued to observe this date as Aboriginal Sunday for the next 15 years. However, because many people holidayed over this summer weekend, it was eventually felt that a Sunday observance did not have enough impact.

In 1955, the NMCA suggested the day should be ovserved nationally. The day's aim was to improve attitudes towards Aboriginal people. Effort was to come not only from the Churches but also from Commonwealth and state governments and other bodies. Sir Paul Hasluck, Minister for the Territories at the time, promised Federal government co-operation. A national day was set down for the first Sunday in July.


The National Aboriginies' Day Observance Committee (NADOC) was formed in 1957. It had support and co-operation from state and federal governments, the church and other Aboriginal and Islander organisations.

In 1974, when all members of the NADOC Committee were for the first time Aboriginal or Islander, NADOC's image began to change.

From 1975 onwards, NADOC promoted National Aborigines' Week as a time to show the rich cultural heritage of original Australians and their positive contribution to the nation's identity.

In 1985, after considerable discussion, the NADOC Committee agreed to shift National Aborigines' Week from July to September. National Aborigines' Day was set down for the second Friday in September.

Aboriginal and Islander people were campaigning for a national public holiday to mark Aborigines' day, and felt they had a better chance of being granted a holiday later in the year, when the weather was better.

There was mixed acceptance of this change and some regions continued to recognise the july date. In January 1991, the NADOC Committee reconsidered the issue and decided to shift the day back to the second friday in July, beginning in 1992.


Today, the National Aborigines' Day Observance Committee has become the National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee (what does NAIDOC stand for), to formally recognise the involvement of Torres Strait Islander people.

NAIDOC Week activities begin on the second Sunday in July, with National Aboriginal and Islander Day celebrated during the week. Throughout Australia, NAIDOC Week and National Aboriginal and Islander Day are observed by Aboriginal and Islander people and their supporters.