Leila Lord, Tasman Dohti, and ex-soldier and Aboriginal activist Herbert Groves wearing his Second World War uniform as protest on the Australian Aboriginal League float in the 1947 May Day procession (photograph courtesy Australian War Memorial - P01248.001)

Leila Lord, Tasman Dohti, and ex-soldier and Aboriginal activist Herbert Groves wearing his Second World War uniform as protest on the Australian Aboriginal League float in the 1947 May Day procession (photograph courtesy Australian War Memorial - P01248.001)

mawa – grasp – to take hold / walama – return or come back

There was a growing political activism within Sydney’s Aboriginal community over the 20th century, which led to the development of facilities and institutions for urban Aboriginal people. While Redfern was a particular focus for activism around civil and land rights, and a number of organisations integral to self-determination were established here, but there are also sites all over Sydney of political significance to Aboriginal people.

Bill Ferguson at Aboriginal protest rally

Speakers’ Corner at The Domain

Author: Paul Irish Speakers’ Corner was established in the eastern end of The Domain near the Art Gallery of NSW in 1878. Aboriginal speakers were active there from the late 1930s, including civil rights campaigners such as Jack Patten, Tom Read More

Mrs Macquarie's Chair

Mrs Macquarie’s Chair

Author: Paul Irish In January 1988, an Aboriginal Tent Embassy was set up at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair in protest against the planned bicentennial celebrations of European settlement in Australia. For Aboriginal people, the arrival of the First Fleet heralded the Read More

Lord Mayor Clover Moore, with Deputy Mayor Irene Doutney, Uncle Chicka Madden, Uncle Max Eulo, Nathan Moran and local school children (image courtesy City of Sydney)

Reconciliation Park

Reconciliation is the symbolic recognition of the honoured place of the First Australians in our society. The movement for reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the wider Australian community began in the early 1990s. It led to Read More

A group of friends watch the Welcome to Country ceremony near the Sydney Harbour Bridge during the New Year's Eve 2015 celebrations (photograph by Cole Bennetts, courtesy City of Sydney/Getty Images)

NYE Welcome to Country illuminations

On New Years Eve 2015, a specially choreographed Welcome to Country was projected on to the pylons of Sydney Harbour Bridge, making the entire structure a message of hope for 2016.

Official commemoration and wreath-laying for Aboriginal ex-servicemen at the ANZAC War Memorial in Hyde Park on 11 July 1969. Ken Colbung, along with two Aboriginal children from Green Valley, Robert Ridgeway and Peter Lonsdale, laid wreaths on behalf of the older and younger generation (Photograph courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, APA 31662).

Recognising military service

Author: Catherine Freyne On National Aborigines’ Day in July 1969, a crowd of about 400 people gathered in Hyde Park south and watched as two Aboriginal children laid wreathes on the curved steps of the Anzac Memorial. They were led Read More

Douglas Grant, nurses and ex-servicemen gather around the war memorial built by Grant at Callan Park, which featured an ornamental pond and a replica of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, 1931 (Photograph courtesy State Library of NSW, Digital Order number a368022)

Douglas Grant

Author: Nicole Cama Douglas Grant was a natural born leader, fiercely intelligent artist and poetry enthusiast who served as a Private in the 13th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force before he was captured as a Prisoner of War in Read More

Participants in the City of Sydney’s oral history project to honour Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who served their country, with Lord Mayor Clover Moore (Image courtesy Barbara McGrady / City of Sydney)

Military service and Aboriginal voices

Author: Catherine Freyne The City of Sydney’s history team started recording oral histories with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service people in 2008. The project gained new impetus in 2013 with the commissioning of YININMADYEMI Thou Didst Let Fall the memorial artwork Read More

Ex-soldier and Aboriginal activist Herbert Groves wearing his World War 2 uniform as protest on the Australian Aborigines League float in the 1947 May Day procession (Photograph courtesy Australian War Memorial, P01248.001)

Bert Groves

Author: Laila Ellmoos Bert Groves was an active and vocal Sydney-based Aboriginal activist in the 1950s and 60s, who improved the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia. Although politically active as a young man, it was his experience Read More

National Aborigines Day image

Aboriginal organisations in Sydney

Author: Anita Heiss The Australian Aborigines Progressive Association (AAPA), led by Fred Maynard, operated in Sydney from 1924 to 1927 when it was disbanded due to police harassment. In 1932 in Victoria, William Cooper, Bill Onus and Ebenezer Lovett formed Read More

Portraits of Biddy Salamander of the Broken Bay Tribe, Bulkabra Chief of Botany, Gooseberry Queen of Bungaree, as depicted by Charles Rodius in 1834 (Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW - SAFE / PXA 615, Digital Order No. a1114010)

Significant Aboriginal people in Sydney

Author: Anita Heiss In December 1788, not long after the landing of the First Fleet, Governor Phillip ordered the capture of Arabanoo (born c1758). Arabanoo was dressed in European clothes, trained in English and called Manly (after his place of Read More


Jack Patten

John (Jack) Patten was a public speaker and William Ferguson’s collaborator in the early days of the Aborigines Progressive Association (APA). He was born in Cummeragunja on the Murray River; unlike many Aboriginal people at the time, he attended high Read More

NAIDOC Week celebrated in Hyde Park in 2012 (photograph courtesy City of Sydney)

Significant Aboriginal events in Sydney

Author: Anita Heiss January 26 was nominated as Australia Day to celebrate the anniversary of white settlement. It commemorates the ceremonious unfurling of the British flag at the head of Sydney Cove by Governor Arthur Phillip in 1788. By the Read More

Title_Government Policy

Government policy in relation to Aboriginal people

Author: Anita Heiss Since the European invasion until very recently, government policy relating to Aboriginal people has been designed and implemented by non-Aboriginal people. The common justification for most policies for Aboriginal people was that they were ‘for their own Read More

Harry Williams and Chicka Dixon

Charles ‘Chicka’ Dixon

Charles ‘Chicka’ Dixon was born at Wallaga Lake and worked as a stevedore on Sydney’s wharves. He worked in the Seamen’s Union as a shop steward before following the political footsteps of those who inspired him. Chicka Dixon heard Jack Read More

Gary Williams and Charles Perkins at Sydney University

Charles Perkins

Born on the Todd River in Alice Springs, Charles Perkins moved to Adelaide in 1945. Spotted by a soccer talent scout, he played for Everton in England and returned after one year and became one of South Australia’s best players. Read More

Aboriginal Medical Service at 36 Turner Street, behind St Vincent’s Church in Redfern, c1989 (City of Sydney Archives - NSCA CRS 1133/3/97)

Aboriginal involvement with the church

Author: Anita Heiss Much of the early interest in Sydney’s Aboriginal people was as a study of ‘primitives’ in need of salvation. Catholic priests, Fathers Therry and Power baptised around 45 Aboriginal people at St Mary’s Cathedral between 1820 and Read More

Harry Williams and Chicka Dixon

Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs

The Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs was established in December 1964 to provide assistance to Aboriginal people living in Sydney. Although it was originally intended as a non-political and non-religious organisation, it soon became an important stepping stone in the push Read More

Boy Scouts' visit to Royleston in May 1925 (Sydney Mail, 3 June 1925, p. 19)


Royleston was a grand Glebe residence built in 1880. It was purchased by the NSW Child Welfare Department in 1922 for use as a ‘home’ or ‘receiving depot’ for male wards of the state. Nearby Bidura fulfilled the same purpose Read More

Paul Keating at the launch of the Year of the Indigenous Person at Redfern Park

Redfern Park

Redfern Park was the site of a speech given by the former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating on 10 December 1992, to launch the Year of the Indigenous Person. Subsequently referred to as the ‘Redfern Speech’, it focused on reconciliation, Read More

Protesting taking to the streets of Sydney during the 1988

Land Rights

Along with the protection of children, and the right to vote and be counted, Aboriginal people also mobilised politically around land rights throughout the 20th century. Sydney had seen protests about Aboriginal land ownership from the early 20th century, but Read More

Gary Williams and Charles Perkins at Sydney University

Freedom Ride

Student Action for Aborigines (SAFA) was formed in 1964 as a way of engaging students at the University of Sydney with issues encountered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia. The group had been directly influenced by the Read More

The Boot Trade Union Hall

Boot Trade Union Hall

The Boot Trade Union Hall at Redfern was a popular gathering place for Aboriginal people living in Sydney following the Second World War, especially for dances on Friday evenings. It was also the site of an important Aborigines Progressive Association Read More

Aboriginal Medical Service in 1974

Aboriginal Medical Service

The Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS) was set up in July 1971 to provide free medical support to Aboriginal people living in Sydney. It was the first Aboriginal community-run medical service in Australia, and had a holistic approach to health care Read More

Redfern’s Aboriginal Legal Service

Aboriginal Legal Service

The Aboriginal Legal Service was established in December 1970 to provide free legal assistance to Aboriginal people living in Sydney. The service was intended to counteract disadvantage and discrimination faced by Aboriginal people, especially those unable to afford legal advice. Read More


St David’s Hall

The Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association (AAPA) was an all-Aboriginal political organisation formed in Sydney in 1924 by Fred Maynard. He had been involved in the Coloured Progressive Association, a group active in Sydney between 1903 and 1908, and was profoundly Read More

Aboriginal activists in the lounge of the Burlington Hotel

Burlington Hotel

Aboriginal people were not free to drink in public bars in Sydney through to the 1970s. Although not upheld by law, this informal apartheid was enforced by patrons, publicans and the police. The imposition of this unofficial ban was a Read More

Henry Jones & Co IXL Jam Factory

Henry Jones IXL jam factory

Sydney has long been a magnet for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people seeking work opportunities, shelter and connections with community and family. Many worked in private industry in Sydney’s southern suburbs. Local industries where Aboriginal people worked were the Read More

Aboriginal Housing Company The Block Redfern

Aboriginal Housing Company

There has always been an Aboriginal presence in Redfern because it is centrally located, housing was once relatively cheap, and it was close to industry and jobs in South Sydney. During the 1930s Depression, many extended families moved to the Read More

National Aborigines Day image

Martin Place

Following the Day of Mourning protest on Australia Day in 1938, an annual protest event was inaugurated. Known as Aborigines Day, it was held each Sunday before Australia Day. In the mid-50s, it was decided to move this commemoration day Read More

Day of Mourning in 1938

Australian Hall

This was where Aboriginal rights activist Jack Patten read the resolution on citizenship rights at the Day of Mourning Conference on 26 January 1938, which only Aboriginal people were allowed to attend. Activists including Patten, William Ferguson and William Cooper Read More

Bidura in 1973


Bidura was a grand residence designed and built as a family home by architect Edmund Blacket. It was purchased by the NSW Child Welfare Department in 1920 for use as a ‘home’ for female wards of the state. Nearby Royleston Read More

New members of the Aborigines Welfare Board in 1964

Aborigines Welfare Board

The Chief Secretary’s Building on Macquarie Street was the meeting place for the now notorious Aborigines Welfare Board until the Board’s abolition in 1969. The organisation was formed in 1883 under its original name, the Board for the Protection of Read More