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Aboriginal education timelines in NSW

The main timeline illustrates some of the long struggle of Aboriginal people in NSW against inequality in education. The two case studies outline some issues in more detail. The timelines are relevant for several topics in the Aboriginal Studies syllabuses.

A NSW Aboriginal Education Timeline 1788–2007

by Dr Allison Cadzow for the Board of Studies NSW


This timeline briefly outlines some turning points and events in NSW institutional Aboriginal education from 1788 to 2007.

Indigenous Australian people have sophisticated education practices and systems based on spoken knowledge and teaching by experience and observation, which were developed well before 1788. Aspects of Aboriginal education have both endured and changed over time, despite non-Aboriginal people’s frequent efforts to ‘improve’ upon, or destroy their knowledge and teachings.

Aboriginal peoples’ early experiences of non-Aboriginal education included missionary schools, mixed and segregated public schooling from 1880, and training institutions which focused on manual work.

Numerous Indigenous people and non-Indigenous supporters have fought against inequality in seeking to gain access to relevant public education for Aboriginal children and adults. Their efforts have been central to the success of initiatives such as the establishment of Tranby College in the late 1950s, Aboriginal Education Consultative Groups in the 1970s, Aboriginal Studies subjects, language revival and teaching.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are increasingly involved in education planning and delivery, signalling a growing respect for Aboriginal people’s abilities to learn and teach from multiple cultures of education.

An historical lack of access to educational opportunities, together with racism, economic disadvantage and health issues have left a legacy of problems faced by many Indigenous students and teachers today. Yet hard-working teachers, students and community members have made significant achievements which are recognised in this timeline as important elements of Aboriginal education history in NSW.

A note on the approach used

The timeline does not capture every important event in Aboriginal education in NSW since 1788. It is a brief chronology with quotations from Indigenous educators, students, activists, authors and community members included to provide insights into NSW Indigenous people’s personal and cultural experiences of education.

Case studies of school education in Gulargambone (central west NSW) and Nulla Creek or Bellbrook (north coast NSW) explore segregation, access disputes and school history in more detail than is possible within a timeline framework.

We hope the timeline and case studies inspire you to find out more about Aboriginal education – to learn about your school, your family and friends’ experiences, and to make some education history of your own!

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Aboriginal education timeline