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NAIDOC Week Posters 1972 - 2017

Tyeli Hannah
50 Years: Looking Forward, Looking Blak (detail), NAIDOC Week Poster, 2007
Image courtesy of the artist and AIATSIS

NAIDOC Week celebrations are held across Australia each July to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Over the last 40 years there have been many changes to the ways NAIDOC Week is presented and held, some of these changes can be tracked easily by looking at the different NAIDOC posters over time. However, some of the changes have been more subtle.

MAMA exhibited a complete set of NAIDOC Week Posters ranging from the first in 1972 to 2017.

A History of NAIDOC Week Posters by Dr Pettina Love

'The 1972 to 1977 posters celebrate National Aborigines Day and have been described as ‘protest posters’. These posters could also be described as posters that have a powerful Aboriginal voice that is ‘here and now’ with politically based themes.

The 1978 poster is in strict contrast to the previous years. The powerful Aboriginal voice that is ‘here and now’ with politically based themes is absent and, instead places the Aboriginal voice into the past. While it still celebrates National Aborigines Day the change in the Aboriginal voice reflects the management to the National NAIDOC Committee. This poster marks the beginning of a set of posters that have been described as having a ‘cultural focus’ that ‘weave ideas of culture and history’.

Between 1979 and 1986 , the focus remains on ‘recognising the rich cultural history that makes Australia unique’ with four of the themes drawn from the international years observed by the United Nations (e.g. International Year of Peace) and one drawn from the Commonwealth Games that were to be held in 1982.

The posters from 1987, 1988 and 1989 have a re-focussed Aboriginal voice that addresses community concerns and is politically active. Events which affected Aboriginal people are addressed in each of these years. In 1987 the government announced a Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and in the same year begun promoting the impeding bicentenary of Australia marking 200 years since the arrival of the First Fleet of British convict ships at Sydney in 1788.

In 1990 the theme reflects the new decade and the next five posters (1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1995) all state that ‘Community is Unity”. In these years the final report into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was released (1991), and Terra Nullius was described as a legal fiction in a legal decision by the High Court referred to as the Mabo Decision (1992). However, the 1995 poster is the only poster in this time period to make a political statement actually addressing community issues as depicted in the placards placed in the artwork.

From 1996 until 2004 decisions regarding NAIDOC Week were managed by ATSIC and some themes can be linked to community issues. The 1997 poster commemorates the 1967 referendum; The 1998 poster reflects the release of the Bringing them Home Report; in 1999 we see the community response to PM John Howard’s inability to say ‘Sorry’ (instead he expressed “a deep and sincere regret)”; the 2001 poster raises the issue of a Treaty (again) and this is followed in 2002 with the 10th Anniversary of the Mabo Decision in commemorated.

2004 was the final year that ATSIC operated (in 2005 it is disbanded). Like a premonition of what was to follow the 2004 poster reflects the core values of the organisation that was formed to create an independent political voice for future generations of Aboriginal people, with the theme“ Self-determination: Our Community-Our future-Our Responsibility”.

From 2005 – 2009 there is a distinct decline in the number of posters that actually address issues from community. The 2007 Northern Territory National Emergency Response (also referred to as ‘the intervention’) is not touched on, while the 2008 poster acknowledges the National Apology by PM Kevin Rudd.

Between 2010 -2014 themes are (for the most part) congruent with government initiatives. The 2010 poster mentions ‘Closing the Gap’. The Stronger Futures Policy that replaced the intervention in 2011 is reflected in the poster for that year.2012 and 2013 both commemorate past activism. The 2014 theme is congruent with Australian National Commemorations.

In 2015, as Aboriginal communities around Australia held rally’s to protest against the forced closure of Aboriginal communities the 2015 theme for NAIDOC was announced. For some people the poster was a complete departure from community sentiment, while others saw it and the 2016 poster as a subtle message protesting the forced closures and removal of people from their homelands.

2017! This year’s poster (had) the theme ‘Our Language Matter’. And while I agree that our languages matter, it is an uncanny coincidence that the government has been discussing legalisation for Aboriginal languages since last year…and meeting with some resistance from community.'

This is just a short summary of 45 years of history! In 2017, around 100,000 NAIDOC posters were distributed nationally. These posters convey messages depicting the cultural and political history of Australia’s Indigenous people and is the primary tool for promoting NAIDOC Week activities and represent something much more as well.'