Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

The Quest for Indigenous Recognition Project

Jimmy Clements
Jimmy Clements in foreground of Parliament House, 1927 (NLA).

Welcome to the Australian Dictionary of Biography’s (ADB) ‘Quest for Indigenous Recognition’ website. The Project is an initiative of the ADB in the National Centre of Biography in the School of History at the ANU.

In mid-2023, members of the ADB’s Editorial Board invited historians and other prominent Australians to explain key historical events in the long journey to the 2023 Referendum on the Voice. The aim of the project is to provide well-informed and reliable historical information that is easily accessible online, and serves as an important educational tool to better inform all Australians who seek to understand the long struggle for Indigenous rights. Each event is linked to relevant documentary, audio and visual sources, as well as biographical articles in the ADB of associated subjects.

The Quest for Indigenous Recognition project offers concise interpretations of twenty-three key events in the history of Indigenous rights. It is intentionally selective, and as we move beyond the referendum, it will be regularly updated. The events described here are not the only examples of Indigenous Australians petitioning for their rights, but they are certainly among the most pivotal since the federation of the Australian colonies in 1901. While there were also many statements, petitions, ceremonies and peace negotiations before 1901, this website covers the federal period between the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901 and the present.

We encourage you to read each entry, and to explore the links provided, which will sometimes allow you to hear or watch some of these events in real time, as well as taking you to other trustworthy sites of information, such as the National Museum of Australia, the Museum of Australian Democracy, the Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, the National Archives of Australia and the National Library of Australia, as well as many other state and federal sources of information.

The ADB sincerely thanks each of the authors for their contributions to this project.

Finally, we would like to acknowledge Indigenous Australians and their supporters who have struggled for rights, justice and recognition since the British invasion of Australia began in 1788.