Dates of significance

There are a number of dates significant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that are celebrated with all Australians today. Some key dates the nation embraces every year include NAIDOC week, National Sorry Day and National Reconciliation Week.

Sea of Hands in front of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.
Sea of Hands in front of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.


NAIDOC Week is held in the first full week of July each year and celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples - the first Australians and the oldest surviving culture in the world. At the end of the week, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ contribution and achievements are recognized through the annual national NAIDOC Awards ceremony.

NAIDOC stands for the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee. Its origins go back to the 1920s with groups like the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association that worked to increase awareness about the lack of citizenship rights and the poor living conditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

National Sorry Day

National Sorry Day is held on 26 May each year. It is especially significant for those Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were forcibly removed from their families, communities and cultural identity to assimilate. Past government policies of forced removal remained in place until the early 1970s. The children, who were taken from their families, are known as the Stolen Generation.

National Sorry Day was a key recommendation in the Bringing them home report produced from the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families.

Recommendation: That the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, in consultation with the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, arrange for a national `Sorry Day' to be celebrated each year to commemorate the history of forcible removals and its effects.

The report was tabled in Federal Parliament on 26 May 1997, two years after the Parliamentary Inquiry commenced, after the Committee undertook hearings in every capital city and many regional towns across Australia and received more than 770 submissions.

The report was a watershed for the nation.

National Reconciliation Week

National Reconciliation Week (NRW) is celebrated across Australia every year from 27 May to 3 June. NRW was established by the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation as a time for all Australians to learn about shared histories, cultures and achievements and a call to action to participate in national reconciliation.

These dates commemorate two significant milestones in the Nation’s reconciliation journey – the anniversaries of the successful 1967 Referendum and the High Court Mabo decision.

On 27 May in 1967, a referendum was held to alter the Australian Constitution. This was a defining moment in Australian history, which saw over 90 per cent of Australians vote to give the Commonwealth the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and recognise them in the national census.

Mabo Day is celebrated each year on 3 June. On this day in 1992 the High Court of Australia delivered a landmark decision which recognised the traditional rights of the Meriam people to their Mer (Murray) Island in the Torres Strait.

Six of the seven judges upheld the claim and ruled that the lands of this continent were not terra nullius or land belonging to no-one when European settlement occurred, and that the Meriam people were 'entitled as against the whole world to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of (most of) the lands of the Murray Islands.'

In Mabo v. Queensland (No. 2), judgments of the High Court inserted the legal doctrine of native title into Australian law. The High Court recognised the fact that Indigenous peoples had lived in Australia for thousands of years and enjoyed rights to their land according to their own laws and customs. They had been dispossessed of their lands piece by piece as the colony grew and that very dispossession underwrote the development of Australia into a nation.

The decision was made in just less than 10 years from when the plaintiffs including Eddie Koiki Mabo began their legal claim for ownership of their lands on Mer Island. Eddie Koiki Mabo, who helped lead the Meriam plaintiff’s case, died one month before the High Court decision was made.

Other significant dates

Other significant days of celebration for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples include:

Last reviewed: 19 Jun 2017