NAIDOC Week history

Aboriginal rights groups began boycotting and protesting against Australia Day well before the 1920s. This eventually led to a movement of Aboriginal activism which saw the emergence of Australia’s first all-Aboriginal political organisation, the Australian Aborigines Progressive Association (AAPA) in 1925 and less than a decade later, the Australian Aborigines League (AAL) founded by William Cooper.

These political groups wanted the highly impoverished conditions for Aboriginal people to improve, bring to an end political oppression and the protection of Aboriginal children. In 1934, the League initiated a petition to King George V seeking Aboriginal representation in the Australian Parliament.

On Australia Day in 1938, the first national Aboriginal civil rights gathering occurred in Sydney protesting, call it, the Day of Mourning. This was the beginning of the modern Aboriginal political movement and organiser and Aboriginal activitist, William Cooper wrote to the National Missionary Council of Australia (NMCA) seeking help to establish an annual Aborigines Day.

Throughout the 1940s, the NMCA encouraged churches to observe the Sunday before the Australia Day weekend as Aboriginal Sunday. By 1955 the NMCA changed the date to the first Sunday in July and secured the support of federal and state governments. Soon after in 1957, the National Aborigines Day Observance Committee (NADOC) was formed to promote the first Sunday in July as a day Australians to focus their attention on Aboriginal communities.

National Aborigines Day 1974 poster

The establishment of the federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs in 1972 helped boost the activities of NADOC and by 1974 the committee comprised only of Aboriginal members. In 1975 NADOC extended Aboriginal Day into National Aborigines Week to celebrate Aboriginal people’s contribution to Australian society and celebrate their cultural heritage. Various activities were arranged for each day of the week wherever it was celebrated.

In more recent years National Aborigines Weeks followed particular themes. For instance, the 1987 theme was ‘White Australia has a black history’, a timely reminder to non-Aboriginal Australians as they entered the year of the bicentenary of European settlement.

With a growing awareness and respect for the cultural histories and differences between of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, NADOC was expanded to recognise Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures and in 1989 and the word ‘Islander’ was added to the title which then became the National Aboriginal and Islander Observance Committee (NAIDOC).

NAIDOC Week today

NAIDOC Week is now seen as a more positive annual event and is celebrated not only in Indigenous communities but by all Australians during the first full week of July. Each year Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ contributions and achievements are acknowledged at local and National NAIDOC Awards ceremonies and other community celebrations are organised by communities, government agencies, local councils, schools and workplaces.

National Aborigines Week 1987

NAIDOC Posters

Each year NAIDOC Week has a theme that represents important issues or significant events to Indigenous peoples. The theme is then used on the National NAIDOC Poster (click link to see the this year's poster) to promote NAIDOC Week in workplaces, community centres and schools.

The earliest NAIDOC poster that has been digitised for the AIATSIS collection is from 1967. AIATSIS does not hold posters for the years 1968, 1971 or 1975. The theme for NAIDOC 1975 was Justice for Urban Aboriginal Children. The poster features Aboriginal children outside the Murawina Kindergarten in Sydney.

If you can provide any history about the NAIDOC poster series please send us an email

NAIDOC Week near you

Last reviewed: 23 Jun 2017