History of NAIDOC
The history of NAIDOC celebrations originates with the National Aborigines Day Observance Committee (NADOC), founded in 1957 to promote the first Sunday in July as a day for focusing Australians’ attention on the Aboriginal communities in their midst. The National Missionary Council of Australia (NMCA) had, since 1940, encouraged churches to observe the Sunday before the Australia Day weekend as Aboriginal Sunday. The NMCA had taken up a suggestion by William Cooper, who, following his successful promotion of a ‘day of mourning’ on Australia Day 1938, had written to the NMCA seeking help in establishing a permanent Aborigines Day. In 1955 the NMCA changed the date to the first Sunday in July and secured the support of federal and state governments, as a result of which the original NADOC was formed. The establishment of the federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs boosted the activities of the committee, which in 1974 became an all-Aboriginal body.
In 1975 NADOC extended Aboriginal Day into National Aborigines Week, during which the Aboriginal people’s cultural heritage and contribution to Australian society are celebrated. Various activities are arranged for each day of the week, wherever it is celebrated. In more recent years National Aborigines Weeks have 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. Since 1976 NADOC has run as a federal body; in 1989 the word ‘Islander’ was added to the title which became the National Aboriginal and Islander Observance Committee, hence NAIDOC.
AIATSIS does not hold posters for the following years: 1973 and 1975
2020 to 2023
Bobbi Lockyer, a proud Ngarluma, Kariyarra, Nyulnyul and Yawuru artist, born and based on Kariyarra Country in Port Hedland, is the winner of the prestigious National NAIDOC Week Poster Competition for 2023 with her entry, For Our Elders.
“Where there is knowledge there are our Elders. Our Elders paved the pathways for us, taught us our knowledge, our history, they passed down their art, stories and wisdom. Our Elders are the foundation of our communities and role models for our children. With this poster I wanted to showcase how important our Elders are in passing down traditions and culture to our children and future.” said Bobbi.
Ryhia Dank, a young Gudanji/Wakaja artist created this piece after reading this year’s National NAIDOC Week theme – Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up! “I knew straight away I wanted to do a graphic piece centred around our flags with text highlighting what we have been through and are still fighting for” said Ryhia. “I feel that this piece being black and white allows us to focus on the details and messages in the artwork”
The artwork features bits of Ryhia and her family “I have included a crocodile for my late granny. She was one of the strongest women I know and was never afraid to speak her mind and stand up for family and Country. I have also included my family’s dancing stick, this is present as a reminder that we will always have our Country, Kin and Culture.
There are also symbols to represent us as a community. People gathered around a camp, a spear and woomera to represent our strength, water, trees, animal tracks and non-human entities to show our connection to Country.” Ryhia Dank, Nardurna
Maggie-Jean Douglas, a Gubbi Gubbi artist from South East Queensland, used the 2021 NAIDOC Week theme, Heal Country!, as inspiration for her winning artwork ‘Care for Country’. This is a bright and vibrant artwork which explores how Country has cared for and healed First Nations people spiritually, physically, emotionally, socially and culturally.
“When creating ‘Care for Country’ I kept in mind that this meant spiritually, physically, emotionally, socially and culturally – I chose to create a bright and vibrant artwork that included the different colours of the land but showed how they come together in our beautiful country and to make people feel hopeful for the future.
I’ve included communities/people, animals and bush medicines spread over different landscapes of red dirt, green grass, bush land and coastal areas to tell the story of the many ways country can and has healed us throughout our lives and journeys.” Maggie-Jean Douglas
The Rainbow Serpent came out of the Dreamtime to create this land. It is represented by the snake and it forms the shape of Australia, which symbolises how it created our lands.
The colour from the Rainbow Serpent is reflected on to the figure to display our connection to the Rainbow Serpent, thus our connection to country. The overlapping colours on the outside is the Dreamtime.
The figure inside the shape of Australia is a representation of Indigenous Australians showing that this country - since the dawn of time - Always Was, Always Will Be Aboriginal Land.
2010 to 2019
Dawn light stretches across Uluru promising hope and new beginnings. The circles at the base of Uluru represent the gathering of many people from different nations to consult and discuss new ways of moving forward, resulting in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
A new day and a new beginning calls for a new way of moving forward as a nation.
Witnessing historic and horrific atrocities against our people, lands and culture. Advocating, struggling and taking up the fight for equality, justice, civil rights and social change. From the footprints of the white eye on our traditional lands, to the breast of our mothers, grandmothers to now and the future you still stand proud, strong, influential and inspiring. You are our mothers, elders, grandmothers, aunties, sisters and our daughters. You hold the knowledge, stories, language, culture and our future. BECAUSE OF YOU, We Can! Become educated, practice our culture, language and pass knowledge to our children, become leaders and trail blazers ourselves, have a dream that is possible to achieve, fuse our culture and arts into two worlds, have a place, identity and future, embed our footprints and spirit back on country, have a voice in policy direction, change the state of our identity and character that are unjust, hold our heads and be proud to be First Nations.
All our languages matter and are important to us as Indigenous Australians. My artwork reflects this year’s theme by incorporating some of the many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations and languages around Australia.
This is my passionate expressions of a spiritual connection to the land. Songlines Tie All Aboriginal People Together.
Songlines criss-cross and go east and west and they go north and south and they go diagonally and they backtrack according to the journeys of the ancestors. They create a kind of cultural network of stories that ties all of Aboriginal People together.
This is what my painting is representing, you can see all the songlines coming together creating our nation.
The Dreaming stories are presented as elaborate song cycles (Songlines) that relate to a specific place, group and individual. Dreamtime ancestors made Songlines as part of the creation story. They provide a map of recording the landscape and represent the relationship between the land, sea and the people.
Our Steps of Respect
Theme: We all Stand on Sacred Ground: Learn Respect & Celebrate
My artwork is a combination of my photography, drawings, and graphic design work—representing the ages and colours of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and their strong spiritual and cultural connection to the land and the sea. The feet represent the different people, from elders to the young and stories our elders shared of the significant sites and sacred places, and how all Australians should take the time to learn about our history and stories.
Those who Stand to Defend Our Land
Harry Alfred Pitt
Theme: Serving Country: Centenary & Beyond
My artwork features three brothers with their land behind them and the horizon before the. Their Elders are reflected in the water, giving the brothers the strength to overcome what lies over the horizon. My work acknowledges the young men and women of today who are across the sea doing their very best to protect their home and serve their country, empowered by their ancestors. Our soldiers are embracing their heritage and protecting their homes, just as their ancestors did before them, only now they do this beyond the shares of their homeland.
Claiming our Ground
Theme: We value the vision: Yirrkala Bark Petitions 1963
Being recognised as the first people who occupied the land has been a struggle for our people to claim back what was already ours. Fifty years ago the Yolngu people worked together and fought for land rights. Claiming Our Ground combines two digital images, one depicting the legs of men walking around the land and one of water particles embossed to create crevices. Ochre colours were added and circles of communities were drawn to give the impression of distances occupied by our fore fathers and mothers. Brown bark background with wording We value the Vision, Yirrkala Bark Petitions 1963. Celebrating NAIDOC Week 7-14 July 2013.
Look at us now
Amanda Joy Tronc
Theme: Serving Country: Centenary & Beyond
I was shocked to realise that most people I know have never heard of the Tent Embassy. I knew it existed but never appreciated what our people and my family had to fight for only 40 years ago. I researched the four men who founded the Tent Embassy – Billy Craige, Bert Williams, Michael Anderson and Tony Coorey and thought it was important to portray them in my artwork along with their beach umbrella in front of Parliament House. Forty years on, the foreground shows what we have achieved today because of the fruits of their labour. The artwork shows that our history is behind us but our culture is part of our people, not dwindling but getting stronger the more our mob succeed and pave the way for the future generations.
Road to Change
Theme: Change: the next step is ours
A First Australian family links hands as they step out on the road to change – proud of who they are, encouraged by what has already been achieved, and united in their goal to be change makers for a bright new future.
Mr Humphries said his design incorporated his interests in painting, sketching and airbrushing together with his experience working with digital media. “I spent a week thinking of a design that would reflect the 2011 theme and once I had a clear idea what I wanted to do, started to transfer the design on to a digital canvas,” Mr Humphries said.
Unsung Heroes – Leading Through Example
Theme: Unsung Heroes – Closing the Gap by Leading Their Way
The artwork depicts an Aboriginal mother who is an ‘Unsung Hero’ leading her children through example, showing that actions can speak louder than words. The dot work illustrates nurturing and teaching from birth, always guiding our children towards ‘closing the gap’, towards ‘success’ for those who choose to stay on the path.
2000 to 2009
Carrying On Our Culture
Theme: Honouring Our Elders, Nurturing Our Youth
This artwork represents the elders teaching and keeping watch over the young as they learn and grow into adults to then carry on the culture. The painting also depicts the old ones who watch over everyone to protect and guide us through our lives. We all have the ability to connect to those old spirits if we need guidance or inspiration.
Advance Australia Fair?
Duwun Lee and Laniyuk Lee
Theme: Them doe the year
The government has said SORRY – so let’s Advance Australia and be Fair.
The kangaroo and emu are the two unique Indigenous animals that are on the Australian coat of arms and, some say, were chosen because they move forward and find it difficult to go backwards. Their positions have been switched, left and right, to represent the switch in the Governments attitude.
They are surrounded by the stars of the Southern Cross which, like Aboriginal people, have been here since the beginning of time. There must be a change in attitudes of black and white and all the colours in between. Black people must stop waiting for governments and white people to fix their problems – they must start fixing the problems that they can. Governments must not look at Indigenous problems and say “This is going to cost too much to fix” or “The problem is too big”.
Now is the best time because we are in a time of great prosperity which is ripped from the land that rightly belongs to Aboriginal people.
For the background we have used the colours of the land, the sorry is in blue representing water and a healing point. The Southern Cross is in the colours of the sunset, the time when it first comes out. The lines connecting the Southern Cross represent the spirits of our ancestors that are looking down on us and keeping an eye on us. The lines are black for our ancestors and the orange is power and knowledge that they have and have given.
Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders’ future, like this poster, can be built on the Rudd Government’s SORRY. Advance Australia, both Fair and Dark.
The Path We Lead
Theme: 50 Years: Looking Forward, Looking Blak
As Indigenous Australians, we are travelling along a path. This path is along and ancient one that has served us well.
Along this path we have hit hard times, often leaving us heart-broken.
Though we are torn and weathered, we still have a bright future.
We look forward to equality in education, health, employment and standard of living. The path won’t be easy, but we will get there.
“I wanted people, especially Indigenous people, to feel as if the future holds positive things for them,” Tyeli says. “As an Indigenous person, there are a lot of hard things to deal with in life, but there are also a lot a great things and that’s what we should be celebrating. “We need to recognise and strive to achieve good things in life, as well as deal with the negative stuff.”
Theme: Respect the Past-Believe in the Future
Our past and our future are interconnected. In the circle of life as we move from the past to the future we must always remember and respect everything in the past. Our history, our culture, our traditions, our ancestors and our own experiences. This way we can walk into the future with respect and confidence.
Lift Our Spirits
Theme: Our Future Begins with Solidarity
Sometimes our culture may seem as though it is a heavy burden. Sometimes to exit and gain acceptance in non-Indigenous society, we question the importance of our culture. Would it be easier to leave it behind? But our culture is not excess baggage we can freely dispose of. The sphere-shaped objects represent non-Indigenous society. I have chosen a smoother and rounded 3-dimensional shape as this shape rolls ahead with ease regardless of surface, environment or where it is placed. The huge cube represents Indigenous culture. It appears to be heavy to lift and would be easier to leave behind as it is a lot more complex to move without assistance.
Although the cube is larger in size, its contents symbolise a personal significance. The size and colour differences also have meaning. The smaller balls appear metallic and cold whereas the cube is visually vibrant and loud with a sense of warmth. The shadows also play an important part. As the sun rises from the east, this represents Indigenous people moving toward a new day. Our bond with immediate and extended family members and giving nature is our fashion. We are identified by our language, customs and dance. We have a future because of our histories bloodline and by working together in unity we carry our culture and lift our spirits.
Self-determination-Our Community-Our Future-Our Responsibility
Theme: Self-determination-Our Community-Our Future-Our Responsibility
Our Children Our Future
Theme: Our Children Our Future
This theme highlights the importance of ensuring our children have the right to life, good health, protection, education, and an adequate standard of living.
In going home we are connected, even in a Whirly Wind.
Theme: Recognition, Rights and Reform
Treaty-Let’s Get it Right
Theme: Treaty-Let’s Get it Right
Building Pride in Our Communities
Theme: Building Pride in Our Communities
1990 to 1999
Theme: Show some, earn some respect
Bringing Them Home
Ray Thomas, 1960
Theme: Bringing Them Home
Gurindji, Mabo, Wik-Three Strikes for Justice-Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the 1967 Referendum
Theme: Gurindji, Mabo, Wik-Three Strikes for Justice-Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the 1967 Referendum
Theme: Survive-Revive-Come Alive
The faces represent the regeneration of families and communities who make up Indigenous peoples of Australia. The animal life form the land and the sea represents the food, knowledge and wisdom of the oldest surviving culture in the world. We come alive through our spiritual connection with the land, our mother.
Justice Not Tolerance
Ian Wallan Hill
Theme: Justice Not Tolerance
Ian Wallan Hill is a Bibbulmun Noongar from the South West town of Busselton, and has won two NAIDOC poster competitions.
Families Are the Basis of Our Existence-Maintain the Link
Theme: Families Are the Basis of Our Existence-Maintain the Link
Aboriginal Nations-Owners of the Land Since Time Began-Community is Unity
Theme: Aboriginal Nations-Owners of the Land Since Time Began-Community is Unity
Maintain the Dreaming-Our Culture is Our Heritage
Heather Kemarre Shearer
Theme: Maintain the Dreaming-Our Culture is Our Heritage
Artwork by Arrernte artist Helen Kemarre Shearer. Of the artwork Shearer writes: ‘These are my Dreaming stories from my mother’s and my father’s country - Arrernte Dreaming tracks. I lived at Atitjere Homelands, which is Harts Range on the white fellas map. Dreaming’s represented are the snake, yalka (bush onion), tjaipa (witchetty grub), honey ant and the seven sisters. Alangwa is shown as a vital food supply which is constant and a strength to and for the people. The hands symbolise the passing down of our Dreaming stories for our future generations.’
Community is Unity-Our Future Depends on Us
Theme: Community is Unity-Our Future Depends on Us
New Decade-Don’t Destroy, Learn and Enjoy Our Cultural Heritage
Gloria Beckett (Brisbane)
Theme: New Decade-Don’t Destroy, Learn and Enjoy Our Cultural Heritage
1980 to 1989
The Party is Over-Let’s Be Together as an Aboriginal Nation
Theme: The Party is Over-Let’s Be Together as an Aboriginal Nation
Recognise and Share the Survival of the Oldest Culture in the World
Theme: Recognise and Share the Survival of the Oldest Culture in the World
White Australia Has a Black History
Laurie Nilsen (1953)
Theme: White Australia Has a Black History
Nilsen, Mandandanji descendant, used a palette of warm and natural earthy tones of ochre, red and black to represent Indigenous figures and iconography including a stockman riding a horse in front of Uluru; a man wearing a dhari (traditional dancer’s headdress); rock paintings; a mother and son watching a tall ship; a soldier in a trench and a portrait of rugby player Mark Ella, recipient of Young Australian of the Year in 1982. The text ‘White Australia has a Black History’ is a slogan that alludes to Australia’s long-standing reluctance to meaningfully acknowledge Aboriginal people and perspective in the telling of a national history and was the theme when Perth hosted NAIDOC week in 1987 (Pearson 2016).
Peace-Not For You-Not For Me-But For All
Photographer – Robert Layton
Theme: Peace-Not For You-Not For Me-But For All
A NAIDOC poster featuring a photograph by Robert Layton, author of the publication ‘Uluru: An Aboriginal History of Ayers Rock’. While researching material for this book, Layton assisted with the preparation of a number of Aboriginal Land Claims including the claim to Uluru National Park.
Understanding: It Takes the Two of Us
Theme: Understanding: It Takes the Two of Us
Take a Journey of Discovery – To the Land My Mother
Theme: Take a Journey of Discovery – To the Land My Mother
Let’s Talk – We Have Something To Say
Theme: Let’s Talk – We Have Something To Say
Poster promoting NAIDOC Week 1983. The theme ‘Let’s Talk - We Have Something to Say’ was selected to complement the United Nations Year of World Communications. Features a colour photograph of a woman using the Aboriginal method of telling traditional stories to young people with string.
Race For Life For a Race
Theme: Race For Life For a Race
Poster promoting NADOC Week 1982. The theme ‘Race for Life For A Race’ was selected to compliment the national focus on the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane.
Sacred Sites Aboriginal Rights-Other Australians Have Their Rites
Theme: Sacred Sites Aboriginal Rights-Other Australians Have Their Rites
Treat Us to a Treaty on Land Rights
Theme: Treat Us to a Treaty on Land Rights
1970 to 1979
1979 International Year of the Child. What About Our Kids!
Theme: 1979 International Year of the Child. What About Our Kids!
Cultural Revival is Survival
Cultural Revival is Survival
This NADOC [now NAIDOC] poster reflects the decision of the Committee to transition from a day of demonstration to a week- long celebration of the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The posters title 'Cultural Revival is Survival' represents the decision to introduce ideas of culture and history into what had become predominantly politically based themes for the posters. This poster, depicting an Aboriginal rock painting, promotes the protection of cultural property and the survival of Aboriginal culture as part of National Aborigines Week 10-16 July 1978.
Chains or Change
Theme: Chains or Change
Poster produced by the National Aborigines' Day Observance Committee (NADOC) to mark the 10th Anniversary of the 1967 Referendum on National Aborigines Day, 8th July 1977. The poster resembles the Aboriginal Flag. The yellow circle at the centre of the poster featuring an Indigenous man wearing a chain around his neck enclosed by a large white question mark.
Trucanini Last of her People Born 18?? Died 1876. Buried 1976. Received Her Land Rights at Last
Theme: Trucanini Last of her People Born 18?? Died 1876. Buried 1976. Received Her Land Rights at Last
What did your dreamtime spirit feel
As it watched them take you after death
As a rare museum piece,
Will the dreamtime spirits of our race
One day rise with us
As they did with you.”
AIATSIS does not hold the poster for 1975.
Justice for Urban Aboriginal Children
Theme: Justice for Urban Aboriginal Children
Theme: Self Determination
AIATSIS does not hold the poster for 1975.
It’s Time For Mutual Understanding
Theme: It’s Time For Mutual Understanding
Advance Australia Where?
Theme: Advance Australia Where?
Poster celebrating first National Aborigines' Day observed on the 14th of July 1972, after the Department of Aboriginal Affairs was formed as a major outcome of the 1967 Referendum. The second Sunday in July is associated as a day of remembrance for Aboriginal people and their heritage.