Held the first week of July, NAIDOC runs from Sunday to Sunday.
This year it starts on July 2 and finishes on July 9.
But NAIDOC’s origins go back to January 26, 1938 — a time of mixed celebrations.
It was the 150th anniversary of the landing of the First Fleet.
There was a re-enactment of the arrival of Governor Arthur Phillip at Sydney Cove as well as a street parade of 120 motorised floats depicting different aspects of Australian life.
But there was more to this story of the re-enactment.
Organisers attempted to involve local Aboriginal people in the performance, but these overtures were rejected.
A rally and Congress of Aboriginal people in Sydney on January 26 — a Day of Mourning — was being planned by the Aborigines Progressive Association and the Australian Aborigines League.
In the APA pamphlet published on January 12 — Aborigines Claim Citizen Rights! — Aboriginal rights leaders, John (Jack) Patten and William (Bill) Ferguson wrote:
“This festival of 150 years’ so-called “progress” commemorates also 150 years of misery and degradation imposed upon the original native inhabitants by the white invaders of this country. We, representing the Aborigines, now ask you, the reader of this appeal, to pause in the midst of your sesqui-centenary rejoicings and ask yourself honestly whether your “conscience” is clear in regard to the treatment of Australian blacks by the Australian whites during the period of 150 years’ history which you celebrate.”
This rally, an important moment in the push for equity and justice, would call for full citizenship, representation and laws to improve Aboriginal peoples’ lives.
In the meantime, in the face of refusal of local Aboriginal involvement, and to ensure the re-enactment event went ahead, government officials selected 25 male dancers and singers from Menindee in western NSW.
They were transported to Sydney on the back of a mission truck.
In the week leading up to the celebration, they were deliberately kept separate from the local Aboriginal activists and community — locked in the police barracks until the re-enactment — and forced to take part under threat of removal of rations for their families back home.
The instructions given to the men included fleeing up the beach away from the British ‘soldiers’ armed with bayonets — an action not supported by the historical records of those on the First Fleet and designed to underscore the supremacy of British power.
For the Aboriginal participants it was a yet another reminder of their powerlessness in the face of the Aboriginal Protection Board.
For those who mourned, who marched in silence through the streets of Sydney, not only did they have to wait until the parade passed by, but they were not permitted to enter by the front door of Australian Hall in Elizabeth St, they were forced to use the rear entrance.
There are local links to the beginning of NAIDOC.
Leaders from Cummeragunja such as William Cooper, Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls, Margaret Tucker were present on that day.
The Day of Mourning was one of the first major Indigenous civil rights gatherings in the world.
It was decided that this should become an annual event so from 1940 until 1955, the Day of Mourning was held on the Sunday before Australia Day and was known as Aborigines Day.
Following a decision in 1955 for the day to become not just a symbol of protest but a celebration of Aboriginal culture, the date was shifted to the first Sunday in July.
The National Aborigines Observance Committee – NADOC, the forerunner of NAIDOC – was formed in 1957 with the support of major Aboriginal organisations, state and federal governments and a number of church groups.
By 1974, the NADOC Committee was composed entirely of Aboriginal members for the first time.
It was in 1975, that NAIDOC changed to a week-long celebration.
In recognition of the distinct Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, NADOC was expanded to recognise Torres Strait islander peoples and the name changed to the current one, NAIDOC – National Aboriginal and Islander Day Organising Committee.
So, what does NAIDOC Week mean?
As national committee member Ngarra Murray explains on the NAIDOC website: “NAIDOC is in our blood. It is special to me as it continues the legacies of our old people, including my great-grandparents, the late Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls and lady Gladys Nicholls. We have an intergenerational responsibility to carry NAIDOC each year and pass on its importance to our younger generation, so they are grounded in culture and connected to community. Born from a protest, NAIDOC is now a key part of our identity and history and brings our people together each year to celebrate our culture, community, resilience and survival.”
The 2023 National NAIDOC Week Committee, in announcing the theme for this year, explained why “For Our Elders” was chosen.
“Across every generation, our Elders have played, and continue to play, an important role and hold a prominent place in our communities and families. They are cultural knowledge holders, trailblazers, nurturers, advocates, teachers, survivors, leaders, hard workers and our loved ones.
Our loved ones who pick us up in our low moments and celebrate us in our high ones. Who cook us a feed to comfort us and pull us into line, when we need them too. They guide our generations and pave the way for us to take the paths we can take today. Guidance, not only through generations of advocacy and activism, but in everyday life and how to place ourselves in the world.
We draw strength from their knowledge and experience, in everything from land management, cultural knowledge to justice and human rights. Across multiple sectors like health, education, the arts, politics and everything in between, they have set the many courses we follow.
The struggles of our Elders help to move us forward today. The equality we continue to fight for is found in their fight. Their tenacity and strength have carried the survival of our people.
It is their influence and through their learnings that we must ensure that when it comes to future decision-making for our people, there is nothing about us — without us.
We pay our respects to the Elders we’ve lost and to those who continue fighting for us across all our Nations and we pay homage to them.”
So, when we all reflect on NAIDOC 2023, think about the calls back in 1938 for representation and a voice in decisions that impact their communities – calls that are still are resonating today.
Think also about the many Elders who have paved the way for their people; those Elders whose work within their families, communities and the broader community makes such a difference.
Their stories of tenacity and strength hold relevance for all of us.
NAIDOC Week is an opportunity to learn more about the longest-continuing culture of the planet – a culture that is part of the amazing story of our country.
Take the time to explore, find out more.
What can you do in NAIDOC Week?
* Attend the annual NAIDOC flag raising at 8am to 9am on Monday, July 3, at Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative, Rumbalara Rd Mooroopna.
* Find out whose country you are on.
* Visit your library and read a book by a First Nations author.
* Watch NITV there’s always lots on during NAIDOC
* Go to the NAIDOC website www.naidoc.org.au/about/naidoc-week