Chris Taylor with Gurindji elder Jimmy Wavehill along the Wave Hill Walk-Off route in the Northern Territory

Australian History Timeline 3

Australian History Timeline: 1950s to 2000s

1950s to 2000s

The Australian History Timeline features over 90 film clips showcasing a unique collection of Australian history documentaries.

WARNING: this article may contain names, images or voices of deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

Go to Australian History Timeline Part 1: Pre-1770s to 1890s

Go to Australian History Timeline Part 2: 1900s to 1940s


The decade sees the birth of the 'prosperous society', with a time of full (male) employment and a boom in babies and marriages. A quiet demographic revolution is underway thanks to ongoing immigration.

CLIP 1: An Outback Police Officer's Life

In the remote outback, a police officer sets out with two Indigenous stockmen to inspect the many hundreds of kilometres he patrols. His duties cover everything from punishing lawbreakers to acting as postmaster. Clip from Outback Patrol, 1952.

CLIP 2: Melbourne Olympic City

The 1956 Melbourne Olympics took place at the height of the Cold War tensions between the USA and USSR. None of that is apparent in this short documentary survey of Melbourne the city and its preparations for the games. Melbourne Olympic City, 1955.

CLIP 3: Launch of Television

Liz Jacka provides a brief history of the debate on how to establish television broadcasting in Australia. Tim Bowden recalls the enthusiasm with which Australians embraced television. From Wireless to Web, 2005.

CLIP 4: Indigenous Rights – Albert Namatjira

Northern Territory Art Gallery Curator Franchesca Cubillo talks about the life of acclaimed Arrernte artist Albert Namatjira (1902–59) and his citizenship granted in 1957. Clip from Talkback Classroom – Indigenous Rights Learning Journey, 2007.

Talkback Classroom: Indigenous representation – The Bark Petition, 2007.


The postwar baby boomers reach adulthood during a time of plenty and inject a new mood of subversive rebellion. Long-standing campaigns about equal rights for women and Indigenous Australians become key issues of the decade.

CLIP 1: The Bark Petition

In 1963 the Aboriginal Elders at Yirrkala presented the federal government with a bark painting, the title deed to their country. Clip from Talkback Classroom – Indigenous Rights Learning Journey, 2007.

CLIP 2: Oodgeroo Noonuccal – 'We Are Going'

In this clip, Oodgeroo Noonuccal reads her 1964 poem ‘We Are Going’ in full to an appreciative audience at the Harold Park Hotel in Sydney in 1986. From 'We Are Going' by Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker).

CLIP 3: Charles Perkins Freedom Ride

Charles Perkins' involvement in the Freedom Ride through rural New South Wales in the early 1960s played a crucial role in demonstrating that Aboriginal people could stand up for themselves. Australian Biography, 1999.

CLIP 4: Action in Vietnam

This clip provides an insight into Australian soldiers in Vietnam. It features no dialogue or narration but shows helicopters evacuating soldiers from the battlefield and returning to base. Clip from Action in Vietnam, 1966.

CLIP 5: For Love or Money – Equal Pay for Women

This clip looks at how women were brought back into the paid workforce to fill the lower-paid positions as the economy boomed in the 1960s. Clip from For Love or Money, 1983.

CLIP 6: Holt 1966 Election Victory

A news story about the first – and only – federal election fought by Harold Holt when he was prime minister, on 26 November 1966. Cinesound Review newsreel, 1966.

CLIP 7: The Prime Minister is Missing

Radio and television carried news of Harold Holt’s disappearance on 17 December 1967. Clip from The Harold Holt Mystery, 1985.

CLIP 8: Harold Holt's Briefcase

The disappearance of Prime Minister Harold Holt during a beach holiday sparked countless conspiracy theories. The items left in his briefcase are a significant time capsule of his last days. Clip from The Prime Ministers' National Treasures, 2007.

CLIP 9: Holt Conspiracy Theories

With the media and others battling to comprehend how a prime minister in office could simply disappear, the void was filled with numerous allegations, rumours, insinuations and conspiracy theories. Clip from The Harold Holt Mystery, 1985.

CLIP 10: First Australians Episode 6: Vote YES for Aborigines

The Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders has fought for the rights of Aboriginal people to be recognised in line with other civil rights movements occurring overseas. A referendum is called in 1967 for the public to make a choice. Clip from First Australians Episode 6: A Fair Deal for a Dark Race – 'Vote YES for Aborigines'.

CLIP 11: Faith Bandler – 1967 Referendum

Civil rights activist Faith Bandler has made an enormous contribution to the peace movement and Indigenous politics. Australian Biography, 1993.

CLIP 12: Neville Bonner – Change

By the early 1960s, it was clear that discrimination against Indigenous people, their culture and lifestyle continued. Neville Bonner became the first Aboriginal person in Federal Parliament, representing Queensland as a Liberal Party Senator from 1971 to 1983. Australian Biography, 1992.


When Gough Whitlam returns the Australian Labor Party to power after 23 years, a large series of reforms follows. The long economic boom, which has powered Australian prosperity for 30 years, begins to crack. Whitlam's Liberal Party successor as prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, does not hesitate in allowing a mass arrival of Vietnamese refugees into Australia.

CLIP 1: Feminism

Jean Curthoys, Anne Summers, Edna Ryan and Marjory Thomas talk about feminism and their quests for a better education. Clip from Snakes and Ladders, 1987.

CLIP 2: Indigenous Business – A Cattle Station

The Yugal Cattle Company was given a grant of $336,000 to go into business running a cattle station. The company establishes the first Indigenous-owned cattle station on a reserve in the Northern Territory. The Yugal Cattle Company, 1973.

CLIP 3: Wattie Creek

Wattie Creek entered Australian folklore as the birthplace of the Aboriginal land-rights movement when Prime Minister Gough Whitlam visited the Gurindji people to grant them deeds to their land. Clip from Australia's Heritage – National Treasures with Chris Taylor, 2009.

CLIP 4: Cuc Lam's Suitcase

It may be just a small red vinyl suitcase, but for Vietnamese refugee Cuc Lam it is a symbol of a new beginning in a new country. Clip from Investigating National Treasures with Warren Brown, 2004.

CLIP 5: An Australian Greek Wife

Toula, an Australian-born Greek wife, is a workers’ compensation officer. Breaking free from traditional Greek women’s roles, she desires a career and creative freedom. Clip from Our Multicultural Society – Series 1, 1978.

Our Multicultural Society Series 1: George and Toula (excerpt), 1978. NFSA: 16050


This is a brash decade of excess, opportunism and expansion. Many old restrictions and regulations are disbanded, allowing new banks and entrepreneurs to flourish, if briefly. The decade closes in the midst of a recession with unemployment exceeding one million people and many families losing homes and businesses.

CLIP 1: SBS Television

Liz Jacka talks about how the Special Broadcasting Service was established to cater to minority communities as part of multicultural policy in the late 1970s. From Wireless to Web, 2005.

CLIP 2: Saving the Franklin

Conservationist Dr Bob Brown travels the length of the Franklin River in south-west Tasmania through largely untouched wilderness by inflatable raft. In voice-over, he discusses his feelings about the river, and about nature and conservation generally. Clip from The Franklin Wild River, 1980.

CLIP 3: Women of Utopia

This clip from a Film Australia documentary is about the Aboriginal women of Utopia Station near Alice Springs in Central Australia, who run their own artists' program. Clip from Women of Utopia, 1984.

CLIP 4: Giovanni's Tile Business Grows

Well-paid but back-breaking sugar cane work in north Queensland provided the initial resources for Giovanni's business. He and his family went on to create a now highly-successful imported tile business. Clip from The Migrant Experience, 1984.

CLIP 5: Egg Heads: Women 88

Since the 1880s women have sought to achieve status and influence in science and technology. This clip shows Australian women’s wide range of diverse roles in the development of science and technology. From Egg Heads, 1988.

CLIP 6: Breaking Through: Women 88

This clip celebrates the achievements of Australian women through a montage of archival and modern images. It ranges from the harshness of the early pioneering days of isolation and lack of political power to the freedom of choices in work and leisure that are experienced today. From Breaking Through, 1988.

CLIP 7: First Australians Episode 7: We Are No Longer Shadows – 'Discriminatory Legislation'

Narrator Rachel Perkins and Father Frank Brennan explain legislation brought in by the Queensland government to quash Mabo’s land claim. Barrister Bryan Keon-Cohen QC and historian Professor Marcia Langton of the Yiman-Bidjara Nation describe consequences of the legislation and its eventual dismissal by the High Court of Australia. We see the bicentenary protests on Australia Day 1988, and then Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s reaction to his inability to secure a treaty. Clip from First Australians Episode 7: We Are No Longer Shadows – 'Discriminatory Legislation'.


The landmark Mabo judgment by the High Court finds Australia was never terra nullius (empty land) and inserts the legal doctrine of native title in Australian law. The mandatory detention of asylum seekers becomes a political issue.

CLIP 1: First Australians Episode 7: We Are No Longer Shadows – 'We'd Have to Start to Get Political'

Narrator Rachael Perkins gives national and international political context to the times of Edward Koiki Mabo. A voice-over, derived from Eddie’s diaries and the recollections of his family, give reasons as to why he began his fight for rights. Clip from First Australians Episode 7: We Are No Longer Shadows – 'We'd Have to Start to Get Political'.

CLIP 2: Getting Even

In 1902, Australia became the first country in the world to grant white women both the right to vote and to stand for election. The documentary Getting Even asks why – despite this early achievement – women occupied fewer than 15% of Australia's parliamentary seats in 1994. Getting Even, 1994.

CLIP 3: Rosalie Kunoth-Monks – Speaking Out

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks is an actor, ex-nun and Aboriginal activist. She has continued to be active in social work and politics and as a campaigner for her people. Australian Biography, 1995.

CLIP 4: Closing Day at BHP Steelworks

For the last time, 2,000 steelworkers collect their final paycheques and walk out of Newcastle’s BHP Steelworks. Men break down and cry; many have laboured here all their working lives. Clip from Steel City, 2000.


A spectacular Sydney Olympics is followed by a decade of long drought in much of Australia. Concern grows about global warming but Australia experiences a baby boom, a property boom and a consumer boom as unemployment drops to levels not seen since the early 1970s.

CLIP 1: Remembering Eddie Mabo

Aboriginal elder and teacher Douglas Bon remembers Eddie Mabo and the landmark land rights case he fought. From Talkback Classroom – Indigenous Rights Learning Journey, 2007.

CLIP 2: First Australians Episode 5: Unhealthy Government Experiment – 'Apology'

Narrator Rachel Perkins sets the scene for the apology to the Stolen Generations given by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on 13 February 2008. Interwoven are the personal experiences of Sue Gordon AM of the Yamatji Nation and Sam Dinah of the Noongar Nation. From First Australians Episode 5: Unhealthy Government Experiment – 'Apology'.

First Australians Episode 5: Unhealthy Government Experiment – 'Apology', 2008. NFSA: 769348

Go to Australian History Timeline Part 1: Pre-1770s to 1890s

Go to Australian History Timeline Part 2: 1900s to 1940s


Main image: Chris Taylor with Gurindji elder Jimmy Wavehill along the Wave Hill Walk-Off Route.