Timeline, 1905-1971


Mr Alfred Searcy, sub-Collector of Customs at Darwin, writes that all the coastal natives speak Macassar, indicative of a very long association between Yolngu and Macassan peoples


Permits for the harvest of trepang by Macassans not renewed by SA

14 April 1931

Arnhem Land Reserve declared

December 1934

Yirrkala Mission established by the Methodist Church of Australasia. Rev. Chaseling was Superintendent for 8 years


Gove air strip built with the assistance of local Yolngu men.  Gove Peninsula named after a British airman, William Gove, who was killed in action in 1943


American Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land


Australian Aluminium Production Commission finds good deposits of bauxite on the western side of Melville Bay. Geologists report extensive deposits of bauxite in the Gove area.


British Aluminium applies for mining rights and additional prospecting rights in the Melville Bay / Gove area


Australian Government decides it wants a processing plant built to provide jobs for Australians and form the basis for a town


British Aluminium and Consolidated Zinc form a partnership to assess the central mining lease, called SML 1,which includes the Gove air strip


Duval Holdings granted prospecting rights on the perimeter leases


Reverend Edgar Wells appointed as Superintendent of Yirrkala Mission


Pechiney company acting through Gove Mining and Industrial Corporation Limited undertakes to develop the perimeter area prospected by Duval Holdings when the mining rights are transferred

18 February 1963

Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, announces that Pechiney has been granted mineral rights

19 February 1963

Rev. Edgar Wells, Superintendent of Yirrkala Mission, sends telegrams to Central Methodist Mission, Opposition Leader, Stan Davey, FCAATSI and press protesting the excision of 140 acres of land

9 April 1963

Paul Hasluck, Minister for Territories, announces the excision in Parliament

16 July 1963

Gordon Bryant and Kim E Beazley visit the Yirrkala Mission and meet with Elders.  The idea of a petition is discussed

14 August 1963

Petitions from the people of Yirrkala presented to Parliament by Mr Nelson (a bark petition) and Mr Wentworth (a paper version of the bark petition)

20 August 1963

Mr Hasluck, in answer to a question about the bark petition presented to the Parliament the previous week, states that the petition could not be regarded as “having been signed by twelve persons who were in a position to speak on behalf of the whole of the people at Yirrkala”

28 August 1963

Petitions from the people of Yirrkala presented to the Parliament by Mr Calwell (a bark petition) and Mr Beazley [snr] (a paper version of the bark petition)

12 September 1963

Parliament voted to hold an inquiry into the grievances of certain Aboriginal people in Yirrkala


Swiss Aluminium and a group of Australian companies form Nabalco Pty Ltd and begin a new feasibility study on the central lease


Gove Mining and Industrial Corporation Ltd surrender the perimeter leases


A formal agreement between Nabalco and the Commonwealth is approved. Nabalco will build a bauxite mine and treatment plant


Mining (Gove Peninsula Nabalco Agreement) Ordinance passed

8 October 1968

Bark painting by Dundiwuy Wanambi (dec.) depiciting Wuyal with petition on back presented to Parliament by Gough Whitlam on 8 October 1968. Petition requests that the area known as Gove be given the  name Nhulunbuy (see photo of this petition on Resources page of this online collection)


Mathaman and Others v. Nabalco Pty Ltd and Another


Milirrpum v. Nabalco Pty. Ltd. and the Commonwealth of Australia (Gove Land Rights Case) : a claim by Aborigines that their interests in certain land had been invaded unlawfully by the defendants : judgment of the Honorable Mr. Justice Blackburn


Department of the Interior, Gove Peninsula, Canberra: AGPS, 1971 Hall, V.C., Arnhem Land Aboriginal Reserve, in Walkabout, 1 May 1948, p. 33-35

House of Representatives, Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), First Session of the twenty-fourth Parliament, 14 August 1963, p. 81; 20 August 1963, p. 276-277; 28 August 1963, p. 561

Nhulunbuy Corporation Ltd, About Yolngu – Yolngu Life-A Brief Overview. Online at http://ncl.net.au/play/about-yolgnu/ (viewed 21/6/2013)

Wells, Edgar, Reward and Punishment in Arnhem Land 1962-1963, Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1982

Yunupingu, Guringirra, Nganapurru Djama Gundarak, Nhulunbuy, NT: Yirrkala Literature Production Centre, 1983

Note: See the Report from the Select Committee on Grievances of Yirrkala Aborigines, Arnhem Land Reserve, digitised in the Resources section of this website, for a map of the mining lease areas