Warning: This resource may contain references to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may have passed away.

Australia in the 1930s


Indigenous Australians


In 1931, the federal government declared Arnhem Land an Aboriginal reserve as part of a new policy emphasis to try to segregate traditional Indigenous people and make decisions governing their lives.

The Aborigines Act Amendment Act 1936 (WA) gave the minister for Native Affairs the power to take Indigenous people into custody without trial or appeal, and prevented Indigenous people from entering specified towns without a permit.

In the 1930s, Aboriginal people formed protection associations led by inspirational men and women such as William Ferguson, Jack Patten, William Cooper, Douglas Nicholls, Margaret Tucker and Pearl Gibbs to use political action in campaigns to assert self-determination.


A snapshot of 1938

  • January
    • The first national conference of Indigenous Australians was held at the Australian Hall, Sydney, to mark a 'Day of Mourning' and protest during the 150th Australia Day anniversary of colonial settlement. The conference was initiated by William Cooper, founder of the Australian Aborigines League (AAL), and The Aborigines Progressive Association (APA), led by William Ferguson, and Jack Patten. Participants called for Aboriginal land and citizenship rights.

  • March
    • Xavier Herbert won the Commonwealth sesquicentennial (150 years) literary prize for his novel Capricornia.
    • Daisy Bates (1863-1951), a social worker in Aboriginal communities and an anthropologist, published her book The Passing of the Aborigines.
    • Many of Bates's views and stories were sensationalist and incorrect, and many Aboriginal people indicated ambivalence about her and her work.

  • July
    • All exports of iron ore from Australia to Japan were suspended as Japan was seen as militaristic.

  • December
    • The federal government announced that refugees from (Nazi) Germany were to be relocated in Australia.
    • A direct radio–telephone link was set up between Canberra and Washington as a sign of closer US–Australian government cooperation.
    • Albert Namatjira, an Indigenous artist, held his first exhibition of paintings in Melbourne. All 41 pieces sold within three days of the opening.

Downloads