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Australia’s Aborigines Apology: A Timeline

By The Associated Press

A timeline of key dates and facts about Australia’s Aborigines:

– 1788 – British settlers establish a penal colony in Sydney, leading to skirmishes between the colonialists and local Aboriginal clans. Aborigines are believed to have numbered about 750,000 at the time of settlement and to have inhabited Australia for up to 70,000 years.

– 1789 – The first cases of smallpox, brought by the settlers, are reported among Aborigines and kill hundreds.

– 1791 – Officials grant parcels of land around Sydney to convicts who have served their time, beginning years of dispossession of Aborigines that continues as white settlers disperse throughout Australia. Clashes between Aborigines and settlers lead to tens of thousands of deaths among Aborigines and hundreds of settler deaths.

– Jan. 1, 1901 – The Commonwealth of Australia is formed, but the constitution excludes Aborigines from the national census, leaving them to be considered “fauna.”

– 1910 – State governments introduce policies to remove mixed-blood Aboriginal children from their families, arguing the children would be better off because the race – now estimated at around 60,000 nationally – was doomed to extinction.

– 1937 – Assimilation of mixed-blood Aborigines – by force if necessary – is adopted as official policy at a meeting of federal and state officials, while Aborigines living a “tribal life” are to stay on reserves.

– 1967 – In a landmark referendum, Australians vote overwhelmingly in favor of changing the constitution to count Aborigines in the census, effectively granting them voting rights and ending constitutional discrimination.

– 1970 – The last laws granting authorities wide powers to take Aboriginal children away from their families are abolished, though many Aborigines say statistics show the government is still far more likely to take Aboriginal children into foster care for reasons such as abuse than white children.

–1976 – The federal government passes legislation granting Aboriginal ownership to large parts of the Northern Territory, kicking off a new movement to reclaim traditional lands.

–1992 – The highest court rules that Aborigines held a form of ownership to Australia before the settlers arrived, a landmark decision that results in legislative recognition of native title rights over some government-owned lands– and years of acrimonious debate about the issue.

–1997 – A national inquiry says policies removing Aboriginal children from their parents caused massive trauma to 100,000 children and their families, and recommends the “stolen generation” be compensated. Prime Minister John Howard refuses an official apology, but hundreds of thousands of Australians attend so-called “Sorry Day” events.

– 2007 – Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is elected, and promises a formal apology to those Aborigines taken from their families on behalf of the government. The apology is due in Parliament on Feb. 13.

Australian Museum

Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s Bringing Them Home report