Records about First Australians

The National Archives holds many records relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their histories.

The main groups of records relating to First Australians are:

  • Aboriginal affairs
  • administration of the Northern Territory
  • other functions of the Australian Government

Aboriginal affairs

Until the 1967 referendum, the Australian Government could only make laws and implement policies concerning First Australians in Commonwealth territories, not the states. Aboriginal administration in the states was controlled by the individual state governments.

This means that our Aboriginal affairs records from before 1967 only relate to:

  • the Northern Territory, which the Australian Government administered from 1911 to 1978
  • Victoria, which gave its Aboriginal affairs records to the National Archives in 1975 when it handed over all functions relating to Aboriginal people to the Australian Government. These records date back to 1860 

After the 1967 referendum, the Australian Government toook responsibility for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs through:

  • Council of Aboriginal Affairs and Office of Aboriginal Affairs, 1967–72 (CA 1396)
  • Department of Environment, Aborigines and the Arts, 1971–72 (CA 1407)
  • Department of Aboriginal Affairs, 1972–90 (CA 1476)

Our Aboriginal affairs material includes welfare records similar to those held in other state archives and departments. However, our Darwin archives contains a few case files relating to individual people.

Northern Territory administration

We have material relating to First Australians in records about the administration of the Northern Territory.

Several Australian Government departments were responsible for administering the Northern Territory between 1911 and 1978, when the territory became self-governing. They were:

  • Department of External Affairs, 1911–16 (CA 7)
  • Department of Home and Territories, 1916–28 (CA 15)
  • Department of Home Affairs, 1928–32 (CA 24)
  • Department of the Interior, 1932–51 (CA 27 and CA 31)
  • Department of Territories, 1951–68 (CA 60)
  • Department of the Interior, 1968–72 (CA 31)

Other Australian Government functions

Parts of our collection that have specific references to Indigenous people include material on:

  • British nuclear testing at Maralinga, South Australia
  • Commonwealth and state conferences on Aboriginal affairs in the 1930s
  • social security files, such as applications for pensions in precedent cases
  • ASIO files for individuals such as Faith Bandler, Harold Blair, Dexter Daniels and Pastor Doug Nicholls
  • service records for men and women who served in the Australian defence forces

Finding records about Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people

We have compiled a list of key resources and a step-by-step research guide to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people find records about themselves or their family.

First Australians can also ask staff to search the Bringing Them Home name index for records about themselves, their family or their history.