Leila Lord, Tasman Dotti, 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.

1967 Referendum

Author: Danika Davis When Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship (AAF) activists filled Sydney Town Hall for their first meeting on 29 April 1957, they set off a series of actions that led to one of Australia’s most influential events: the 1967 Referendum. Forming Read More

Koiki: the Mabo star

Author: Danika Davis Australian people observe Mabo Day on 3 June each year to commemorate Eddie Mabo’s courage and determination to overturn the fiction of terra nullius, recognising that First Nations peoples had rights to land prior to European settlement. Read More

Apology To The Stolen Generations

On 13 February 2008, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered a formal apology to Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, with specific reference to the Stolen Generations, at Parliament House in Canberra. Hundreds of Sydneysiders gathered at Redfern Community Read More

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 (at Mrs Macquaries Point / Yurong) in protest against the planned bicentennial celebrations of European settlement in Australia. For Aboriginal people, the arrival Read More

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

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.

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

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

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

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 Aborigines Progressive Association (APA) 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 Read More

Significant Aboriginal people in Sydney

Author: Anita Heiss Arabanoo 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 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

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 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


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

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

NAIDOC Week in Sydney

NAIDOC Week had its foundations in Sydney just over 80 years ago. There was a growing political activism within Sydney’s Aboriginal community in the early 20th century. The formation of the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association (AAPA) in 1924, paved the way 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