What does NAIDOC stand for?

NAIDOC stands for National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Day Observance Committee. The acronym for this Committee “NAIDOC” has now become commonly known as a weeklong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural festival celebrated annually in the first full week of July. The festival has a long history, stemming back to a human rights movement for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders people in the 1920s. NAIDOC however was not officially started as a Committee until 1957. It was the 50th anniversary of NAIDOC in 2007.

1920s and 1930s

In the 1920s, Aboriginal Rights groups boycotted Australia Day in protest against the status and treatment of Indigenous Australians. They were increasingly aware that the media were largely ignorant of this effort. If the movement were to make progress, it would need to be active.

Several organisations ermerged to fill this role, particularly the Australian Aborigines Progressive Association in 1924 and the Australian Aborigines League in 1932. Their efforts were largely ignored and due to police harassment the AAPA was forced to abandon their work in 1927.

In 1932, William Cooper, founder of the AAL, drafted a petition to send to King George V. The government of the day held that the petition fell outside their constitutional responsibilities. In 1937, Cooper submitted the petition, but the government did not forward it.

1938: The Day of Mourning

On Australia Day, 1938, protestors marched through the streets of Sydney. The march was a prelude to a congress that was attended by around 1000 people. This was one of the first major civil rights gatherings in the world and was known as the Day of Mourning. It also set the stage for later counter-movements on Australia Day which have since become more widely known as , such as Invasion Day or Survival Day.

The following week, a deputation from the congress presented the Prime Minister with a proposed national policy for Aboriginal people. At the time the government did not hold constitutional powers in relation to Aboriginal people so the policy was rejected. After the Day of Mourning, there was a growing feeling that it should be a regular event. In 1939 William Cooper wrote to the National Missionary Council of Australia to seek their assistance in supporting and promoting an annual event.

1940 – 1956: Aborigines Day

From 1940 until 1955, the Sunday before Australia Day was the Day of Mourning, now known as Aborigines Day. The NMCA believed that the day should become not simply a protest day but also a celebration of Indigenous culture and so in 1955 the day was shifted to the first Sunday in July.

1957 – 1990: NADOC is formed

In 1957, major Aboriginal organisations, the state and federal governments and a number of church groups all supported the formation of NADOC – the National Aborigines Day Observance Committee. At the same time, the second Sunday in July became a day of remembrance for Aboriginal people and their heritage.

In 1972, the Department for Aboriginal Affairs was formed, following from the outcome of the 1967 referendum. In 1974, the committee for the first time was composed of entirely Aboriginal members. The following year, it was decided that the event should cover a week, from the first to second Sundays in July.

In 1984, NADOC asked that National Aborigines Day be made a national public holiday, to help celebrate and recognise the rich cultural history that makes Australia unique. While this has not happened, the call has been echoed by other groups, including ATSIC.

In 1991, with a growing awareness of the distinct cultural histories of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islander peopless, NADOC became known as the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee, NAIDOC. This new name has become the name by which the whole week is now called, not just the day.

Mid 1990s – 2005: ATSIC control of NAIDOC

During the mid-1990s through to 2005, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) took over the management of NAIDOC. During this time, ATSIC assisted in funding and coordination of NAIDOC events throughout Australia. In July 2005, ATSIC was disbanded.

2005: National NAIDOC Committee

After ATSIC’s disbandment, a caretaker National NAIDOC Committee was appointed. Since then, that Committee and the NAIDOC Secretariat have and continue to:

  • set the theme and host city for NAIDOC each year;
  • hosted a website (www.naidoc.org) and made media releases; and
  • organised the national NAIDOC Awards, poster competition, Ball and Awards Ceremony.

2006: NAIDOC Perth is formed

In 2006, community members in Perth formed a NAIDOC Committee to promote and assist in the coordination of the 50th anniversary of NAIDOC in Perth. In January 2008, NAIDOC Perth registered as an Incorporated Association. The preamble to the Constitution of NAIDOC Perth (Inc.) states that:

“NAIDOC Perth aspires to assist in the promotion, coordination and organisation of NAIDOC week activities in the Perth metropolitan area. NAIDOC Perth’s goals and purposes are focused on the preservation and celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and the education of non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about the history and contemporary aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”