Senior Curator, Indigenous Arts, Judith Ryan, explains the significance of Reconciliation week.
National Reconciliation Week was initiated in 1996 by Reconciliation Australia to celebrate Indigenous history and culture in Australia and foster reconciliation discussion and activities. It is held between 27 May and 3 June each year. The dates that signal the beginning and the ending of Reconciliation Week hold special historical significance. The former marks the anniversary of the 1967 referendum in Australia and the latter marks the anniversary of the High Court of Australia Judgement on the Mabo v Queensland case of 1992.
It was not until the National Referendum of 1967 that Aboriginal people were given the same legal rights as other Australians, enabling the federal government to assume responsibility for Aboriginal people and allowing them to be counted in the census.
The historic Mabo Judgement of 3 June 1992 established that the Meriam mir people of the Torres Strait hold native title over Mer (Murray Island). The ten year fight was led by a Torres Strait Islander from Mer, Edward Koiki Mabo. This judgement transformed the legal framework of Australia, setting aside the then existing legal fiction of terra nullius — that Australia was land belonging to no-one when the British settlers arrived in 1788. The judgement opened the way to other claims from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders based on their historic and traditional connection with their land.