21     National Harmony Day

 National Harmony Day is the calendar event of the Living in Harmony Initiative held on March 21 every year. The Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) administer the Living in Harmony Initiative chiefly as a community based education program. This Commonwealth initiative strives to encourage all Australians to contest discrimination. The initiatives three elements are:

 1. a community grants program;

2. a partnership program; and

3. a public information strategy (incorporating Harmony Day. See below)

 First celebrated in 1999, Harmony Day is at the heart of the public information strategy. Through the public information strategy, namely the activities of Harmony Day, individuals, communities and businesses are given the opportunity to participate in applauding diversity and standing against racism.

 Harmony Day, coinciding with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, provides Australians with focus to:

     * think about our community's success as a multicultural society;

    * re-commit to continuing tolerance, goodwill and understanding among all groups;

    * say no to racism.

 The colour of orange was pioneered as the official colour to represent Harmony Day. Each year on March 21, orange can be worn to publicly display a commitment to standing against racial prejudice. Orange was chosen for Harmony Day as a colour that suggests celebration.(1)


 21     United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

 In 1966, the United Nations appointed March 21 as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It commemorates the 1960 Sharpeville massacre. The massacre saw the sacrifice of 69 peaceful anti-apartheid demonstrators and the wounding of a further 180 in Sharpeville, South Africa. White South African Police fired more than seven hundred shots during the demonstration.(2)

 The General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 1966. The Day was declared after relentless outrage and pressure from the international labour community, church organisations, human rights and equality-seeking organisations.(3)

 In 1983, the General Assembly of the United Nations called upon all states and organisations to participate in a program of action to combat racism and racial discrimination. On March 21, 1986, the Prime Minister of Canada encouraged Canadians to join together and extend their efforts to ensure respect, equality, and justice for all Canadians. In 1988, at a conference on human rights, territories agreed to mark March 21 as the International Day for the Elimination of Racism in all jurisdictions of Canada.(3)

 The goal of each yearly campaign is to raise awareness to people and nations of the continuing presence of racism while inspiring them to take action against this discrimination. The Day is about promoting individual action and being open to new ideas.

 The United States has not yet officially recognised the United Nations Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Government of Canada has supported the March 21 campaigns since 1989.(2)



 26     National Sorry Day

 The first National Sorry Day was held on 26 May 1998. This was one year after the tabling of the report titled Bringing Them Home, the Federal Parliament National Inquiry into the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families.(4)

 The report revealed the extent of forced removal. Removal which went on for 150 years into the early 1970s and its consequences in terms of broken families, shattered physical and mental health, loss of language, culture and connection to traditional land, loss of parenting skills; and the enormous distress of many of its victims today.(4)

 Bringing Them Home has sold more copies than any comparable report. The Government, in its response, has acknowledged the harm caused by the policy and has made proposals to address some of the recommendations. The report recommended that a Sorry Day be held - a day when all Australians can express their sorrow for the whole tragic episode, and celebrate the beginning of a new understanding.(5)

 Many of the 'stolen generations' told the Inquiry that they would value this. However, unlike the widespread use of he term ‘sorry business’ and its relation to death, Sorry Day is seen as a means of restoring hope to despairing people. Indigenous people will participate in a Day set aside to the memory of loved ones who never came home. (5)

 Sorry Day is an important step towards togetherness between all Australians. An apology means an understanding. Sorry Day offers an opportunity to acknowledge the impact policies of forcible removal had through a vast range of community activities.(5)


27     Reconciliation Week

 The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation initiated national Reconciliation Week in 1996 to provide a time where all Australians can actively support reconciliation. It held over the week of May 27 to June 3, a week where Aboriginal people, Torres Strait Islanders, and all Australians can celebrate the accomplishments of reconciliation to date and contemplate the future of reconciliation.

 National Reconciliation Week is framed by two very important dates. May 27 marks the anniversary of the 1967 Referendum, and June 3 marks the anniversary of the High Court’s judgement in the Mabo case in 1992. (See below)

 National Reconciliation Week has been declared to "focus public attention on the relationship between Australia's first peoples - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples - and other citizens." The reconciliation process is significant for all Australians. It is about bridge building and respect of difference.(6)

 27     1967 Referendum Anniversary

In a referendum in 1967, Australians enabled the Federal Government to make laws precisely relating to Indigenous Australians by voting for their inclusion in the national census. Through this vote, Federal Government had the power to overrule discriminatory laws in all State and Territory legislation and to create special laws for Indigenous Australians. Previous to the referendum, Aboriginal people were not excluded from the benefit of Australian laws or programs aimed at the community in general, but the original 1900 Constitution prevented the Federal Government from legislating specifically for Aboriginals.

The 1967 referendum question was supported nationally. 90.77 per cent of votes cast voted ‘Yes’, the highest agreement of all referendums. Since the referendum, Federal, State and Territory governments have contributed to delivering special programs and services to Indigenous people.

The referendum did not affect the right of Indigenous people to vote, there has been a long history of Indigenous people voting prior to 1967.(7)


JUNE   3     Mabo Judgement

 The term “Mabo”, as used in media reports refers to issues relating to the Australian High Court judgement in the Mabo versus Queensland case. Eddie Mabo was a Torres Straight Islander who believed non-indigenous laws relating to land were wrong and fought to change them. The Queensland Government strictly regulated life on the Torres Straight Islands. In 1981 during a lands rights conference Mabo made an important speech where he outlined land ownership and land inheritance in Murray Island (island at the eastern extremity of Torres Strait). A lawyer at the conference suggested a test case to claim land rights through the court system.(8)

 The Murray Islanders decided to challenge the High Court in their claim of ‘Terra Nullius’ (no mans land). Mabo was chosen as the leader for this, having many years of experience as a community leader and activist. On the 3rd of June 1992, the High Court ruled that the land title of the Indigenous Peoples, the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, be recognised as common law. The legal doctrine of native title was inserted into Australian law. This followed after a decade of litigation.(9)

 It was in May 1982 that Mabo began the legal claim for ownership of the land in the Torres Strait. The High Court required the Supreme Court of Queensland to resolve the facts on which the case was based. However, while the case was with the Queensland Court, the State Parliament passed the Torres Strait Islands Coastal Islands Act, stating that any rights that the Torres Strait Islanders had to land after the claim of sovereignty in 1879 were extinguished. Mabo therefore had a first case that challenged the legislation stating this Act was in inconsistent with the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act of 1975. (10)

 By the time Mabo No. 2, the recognition that Indigenous people in Australia had a prior title to land taken by the Crown, was decided Mabo had been deceased for six months. In 1993, following the High Court decision of Mabo No. 2, Commonwealth Parliament passed the Native Title Act. Mabo changed the history of Australia, bringing it to the level of common law countries like USA and Canada. (10)

 The papers of Edward Koiki Mabo, including material on the land claim case, personal documents, job applications, and song lyrics and some diaries, have been kept at the National Library of Australia since 1995 and have been arranged in consultation with the Mabo family. (11)


JULY  7 - 13  (exact dates can change but around these dates)          NAIDOC Week

 NAIDOC Week has been achieved through a long history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander endeavours to voice their concerns to Governments and the general public.

 The history began in 1924 when the Australian Aborigines Progressive Association (AAPA) was formed. The AAPA attempted to raise the awareness of the struggle of Aboriginal people but were pushed to stop their work in 1927 due to frequent police harassment.

 In 1932, William Cooper, from Cummeragunga, formed the Australian Aborigines League. Cooper drafted a petition to King George V in protest to the living conditions of Aboriginal people, but the Commonwealth Government informed him that this would be an unconstitutional act. Cooper desired representation of Aboriginal people in Parliament and in 1937 Cooper presented the royal petition to the Commonwealth asking for deliverance of it to the King.