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Baby steps: the year that was for Indig Oz

From Australia Day rebellion to Native Title turmoil and disappointment over stalled Constitutional reform, 2017 wasn’t for the faint hearted.

Here we look at the year’s 10 defining moments for Indigenous Australia …


The port city of Fremantle in WA — known for its alternative lifestyle and penal colony past — becomes Australia’s first to ditch Australia Day out of respect for Aboriginal people. Instead it holds a culturally inclusive ‘One Day’ festival on January 28.

Fremantle’s Australia Day mutiny is followed later in the year by three Victorian councils — Darebin, Yarra and Moreland.


A shock Federal Court ruling in February temporarily puts the brakes on the biggest Native Title settlement in Australian history and throws Indigenous Land Use Agreements across Australia into chaos.

In the so-called McGlade decision, four of six land use agreements negotiated between the Noongar people in WA and the State Government as part of a $1.3 billion package are ruled ineligible to be registered because not all Native Title claimants have signed them.

After four months of uncertainty, Federal Parliament intervenes with new laws counter-acting the effects of McGlade.

The Noongar deal is now back before the National Native Title Tribunal. Its opponents — who say they don’t want to surrender their Native Title — are looking for new legal avenues to stop it.


Black and white leaders were divided over whether Australia’s racial discrimination laws needed to be changed. Human rights advocates went head to head with those pushing for greater freedom of speech.

But in March, the Senate put an end to the debate by rejecting a Federal Government move to weaken controversial Sections 18 C and D of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Human rights legal experts had warned racists would be given a green light if the changes went ahead.


UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.

In April, United Nations official hands down the first of three reports damning Australia’s treatment of its First Nations people.

In an interim report, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous people Victoria Tauli-Corpuz says she is “deeply disturbed” by racism in Australia.

Tauli-Corpuz points to “astounding” rates of imprisonment for Indigenous people, says Australia has failed to respect the right to self-determination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and has slashed funding to vital Indigenous programs and advocacy groups.

They are criticisms she reiterates in a final report delivered in October. The UN weighs in again in December — its Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination releases a report saying Indigenous Australians face “persistent challenges and discrimination … in all aspects of their life”.


After three days of deliberations at Uluru and six months of consultation, Indigenous leaders call for a representative body to be enshrined in Australia’s Constitution and a process set up to work towards treaties.

There were high hopes for the historic Uluru Statement from the Heart, which was largely endorsed by the Referendum Council. But hope quickly turned to anger and despair when five months later Prime Minister Turnbull rules out a referendum on the issue saying it isn’t “desirable or capable of winning acceptance”.


This year marked the 25th anniversary of the now famous Mabo High Court ruling. The Mabo decision ended the doctrine of Terra Nullius and cleared the way for land rights in Australia.

As celebrations and events are held around Australia, there are calls for June 3 to be declared a Mabo Day public holiday.

Eddie Mabo, a Meriam man from the island of Mer in the Torres Straits, fought for a decade for his right to his land, but never lived to hear the successful ruling, which was handed down five months after he died.


Protests break out across Australia as a man is acquitted of the manslaughter of Aboriginal boy Elijah Doughty in WA.

The man’s acquittal sparks outrage and then peaceful vigils among members of the Aboriginal community in Elijah’s Goldfields hometown of Kalgoorlie-Boulder and across the nation.

The 56-year-old man, whose identity is suppressed, is instead sentenced to three years’ jail on a lesser charge of dangerous driving occasioning death.

He hit 14-year-old Elijah with his ute while chasing the teen, who he believed had stolen his motorcycle, on a bush track at Gribble Creek.


Australia is rocked by the death of its most prominent Indigenous musician Dr G Yunupingu.

He dies at the age of 46 and is remembered as “a genius and wonderful human being” and “one of the most important figures in Australian music history”.


The final report of the Northern Territory Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Top End makes for grim reading.

Guantanamo Bay-style hoods, tear gas, restraints, strip searches and racism were part of life behind bars for some children and young people.

The report recommends raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 years and only allowing children under 14 to be detained for serious crimes, as well as a far-reaching overhaul of the entire juvenile justice system.


Australia’s oldest human remains, those of 42,000-year-old Mungo Man, return to country.

Mungo Man was believed to be about 50 when he died.

In his prime, he stood at nearly two metres tall and he walked the earth when Australia was also home to giant animals, or so called ‘mega fauna.

His remains were found at Lake Mungo in New South Wales in 1974 and until this year were held at the at the Australian National University in Canberra.

They have since been returned to the elders of the Willandra Lakes area of western NSW.

Wendy Caccetta


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