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Australian History

Wednesday, August 14, 1963. :   The Yirrkala Bark Petitions are presented to the Australian Parliament, becoming a catalyst to the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Commonwealth law.

     The Yirrkala Bark Petitions were pair of bark paintings sent to the Australian Parliament in 1963. They were signed by 13 clan leaders of the Yolngu people of Yirrkala on the Gove Peninsula in northeast Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, in response to the announcement by Prime Minister Robert Menzies that bauxite mining leases could be granted by the Federal Government. The Yolngu people sought recognition of their rights to the land they had traditionally occupied by using traditional forms, combining bark painting with text typed on paper for the petitions – the first of their kind.

The Bark petitions protested the granting of mining rights on 300 square kilometres of land which had been excised from Arnhem Land, and called for the government to reconsider its decision. They also requested that a Parliamentary committee be sent to speak directly with tribal elders. There had been no consultation with Aboriginal leaders regarding the mining licences, and the Yolngu people were concerned that the mining would not only disturb their sacred sites, but restrict their own access to such sites.

The petitions were first tabled in the House of Representatives on 14 August 1963 by Jock Nelson, Member of Parliament for the Northern Territory, and again on 28 August by the Leader of the Opposition, Arthur Caldwell. The first traditional documents to be recognised by the Commonwealth Parliament of Australia, the documents sought to gain the Commonwealth Parliament's recognition of rights to traditional indigenous lands on the Gove Peninsula. Although the petitions did not achieve constitutional change directly, they were a catalyst to the process of legislative and constitutional reform which led to the eventual recognition of Indigenous rights and people in Australian law. They brought about changes to the Constitution in the 1967 referendum, which led to the statutory acknowledgement of Aboriginal land rights a decade later, and the overturning of the concept of “terra nullius” by the High Court in 1992. Thus, the petitions were instrumental in shaping the nation’s acknowledgment of Aboriginal people and their native land rights.


Today in History

Thought For Today
You destroy all liars and despise violent, deceitful people.
Psalms 5:6 (c) GNB
God is disgusted by constant lying. He will engineer circumstances so they will be found out and fall flat on their face publicly!

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