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History of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have distinct identities, histories and cultural traditions. The following information is a starting point to exploring these rich cultures.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community history section provides an in-depth and referenced history for each of the regions, including each of the Torres Strait Islands. Find out more about the community histories for many of Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, including information about the history of government control.

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) website features a timeline of significant dates in the histories of Indigenous peoples. The timeline begins 70,000 years ago with the first arrival of people from south-east Asia, and runs forward in time to the 40th anniversary of the Aboriginal tent embassy in 2012.

The Torres Strait Regional Authority website contains a brief history of the Torres Strait up to 1879. Did you know…

  • more than 8000 years ago world sea levels were about 100 metres lower than today, meaning people could walk between Cape York and southern New Guinea?
  • archaeologists working in the Torres Strait have discovered evidence of human settlement dating back 2500 years?
  • the Torres Strait is named after a Spanish captain – Torres – who sailed through Torres Strait in 1606 on his way to Manila?

The Australian Electoral Commission website features a timetable of electoral milestones for Indigenous Australians dating from 1770 to 2013, when Adam Giles was appointed the Northern Territory’s Chief Minister, becoming Australia’s first Indigenous head of government.

Culture and the arts

The preservation of Queensland’s original languages is the preservation of ancient cultural treasure – not just for Indigenous people or Queenslanders, but for everyone. Learn more about how community groups are working to revive and maintain their languages.

Indigenous art is an important part of Australia’s history and galleries throughout Queensland and Australia host collections including examples of paintings, textiles, prints, drawings, objects, photos, bark paintings and sculpture. Why not visit a gallery near you to discover more.

Are you holidaying in Australia, or would you just like to learn more about Aboriginal culture and traditions face-to-face? Explore the exciting options available in Queensland to hear stories handed down through the generations, learn about bush tucker and medicines, or learn how to fish using traditional methods.

Throughout each year, events are held to celebrate Indigenous cultures. NAIDOC Week – held across Australia each July – celebrates the history and achievements of these cultures and is celebrated not only in Indigenous communities, but by all Australians. Visit the NAIDOC website to find out about NAIDOC events near you.

Find out more about other Indigenous cultural events.


Reconciliation is about building better relationships between Indigenous peoples and the wider Australian community for the benefit of all Australians. Learn more about reconciliation.

National Reconciliation Week is held in late May/early June each year - stay informed about opportunities to get involved, resources available, and how to register events.

The Australian Government website hosts the video apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples issued in 2008. Both a sign language version and the transcript are available.


The State Library of Queensland hosts a collection about Queensland legislation that, with colonisation, Indigenous peoples became subject to. Another list of Queensland legislation representing laws that changed Indigenous people’s lives is available on the AIATSIS website.


Bringing them home: The ‘Stolen Children’ report is the result of the 1997 National Inquiry into the Separation of Indigenous children from their families. Chapter 5 traces Queensland’s history of colonial policies and practices, segregation, assimilation and repeal of protectionist legislation.

The Australian Human Rights Commission website has a list of recommendations from the report as well as a list of frequently asked questions.

The Indigenous Deaths in Custody 1989-1996 report is also available to download or read online. This report was prepared by the Office of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission in October 1996. This report examines the deaths of Indigenous people in custody since the Royal Commission ceased investigating deaths in May 1989.

More information

Find out more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

We also encourage you to continue learning about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures by visiting the websites listed under Find out more and Related links at the right of this page.


Related links

Explore Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rich culture and history:

Last updated
10 April, 2015

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