Welcome to the History topic in the Commons Social Change Library. We have gathered a wide range of resources about the history of First Nations, social and labour movements in Australia and beyond. These case studies, chronologies, interviews and stories not only provide inspiration and lessons from the past but also help us understand the roots of today’s campaigns and forms of activism.
Let no one say the past is dead. The past is all about us and within. – Oodgeroo Noonucal, 1970
First Nations Activism in Australia
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Timeline of Resistance
This Timeline of Resistance was produced by Original Power as a training aid for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander communities as well as allies aiming to work in solidarity.
Aboriginal Memoirs as Social Activism
This article includes excerpts from papers related to Aboriginal memoir, links to four memoirs by Aboriginal Australians, and where to find more.
Aboriginal Change Makers: Stories of Aboriginal Self-determination and Empowerment
Aboriginal Change Makers is a teaching resource for Victorian schools that presents amazing stories of political and social activity, self-determination, and empowerment, as well as the struggle for recognition in the face of another more dominant and colonising society.
Podcasts About Decolonisation, First Nations Justice and Invasion Day
People’s History of Australia-podcasts and blogs look at Australian history from the perspective of ordinary people fighting together for a better life.
Torres Strait Islanders hold maritime strike against pearling industry, 1936
An account of how Torres Strait Islanders refused work in a government run pearling fleet due to racial discrimination and held a maritime strike in 1936.
Torres Strait soldiers stage stay at home strikes, 1943
The story of how Torres Strait Islander soldiers struck to end discrimination in the Australian army during World War Two.
Australian Aboriginal workers strike for fair wages and equality, 1946-1949
Indigenous pastoral workers in the Kimberley region of Western Australia struck for equal wages and full civil rights in the late 1940s.
The Freedom Ride through western New South Wales towns in February 1965 drew national attention to the racism in these places.
University of Sydney students uncover and protest discrimination of Aboriginal people in New South Wales, 1965
A case study of the 1965 NSW Freedom Ride.
Gurindji Land Rights Struggle: Case study & training guide
A case study chronicling the land rights struggle carried out by the Gurindji people from 1966 onwards.
The Aboriginal Tent Embassy was established in 1972 when the Coalition Government failed to recognise the land rights of Indigenous people.
Performing Political History: An interview with Gary Foley
An interview with Professor Gary Foley about using creative practice to bring attention to the political challenges facing Aboriginal people in Australia.
Noonkanbah 1979: When Unionists Stood up for Aboriginal Rights
An article about the 1979 Noonkanbah land rights blockade.
The battle for Aboriginal heritage on Perth’s foreshore 30 years on
An account of the occupation and picket run by Noongar activists at Gooninup to secure recognition of an Aboriginal sacred site.
Interview with Kevin Buzzacott
Arabunna activist Uncle Kevin Buzzacott discusses campaigns for sovereignty and against uranium mining.
An account from the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation about how they successfully campaigned to stop uranium mining on their land.
The Jabiluka Blockade – 22 years on
Over 500 people were arrested in the course of an eight-month blockade at Jabiluka in 1998. This article includes the campaign timeline and further resources.
Sign Language: The story of the Jabiluka symbol
The story of how the Stop Jabiluka hand symbol was designed and grew to become a symbol for the anti-nuclear movement.
The Stop Jabiluka Mine handbook gives a fascinating insight into an important part of Australian social movement history as well as an overview of the kinds of issues to consider when organising a large scale direct action convergence.
James Price Point/Walmadan: A Huge Win
In 2013 the people of Broome stopped the development of a gas plant and port at iconic James Price Point (Walmadan). This short case study shares some of the keys to success and strengths of the campaign.
A campaign booklet which provides insights into how this campaign was organised and waged.
Beer Strikes: A History of Hotel Boycotts in Australia, 1900-1920
A video presentation about beer strikes and the history of hotel/pub boycotts in Australia in the early 1900s.
Australians block cricket and impede rugby tour of apartheid South Africa, 1971
A case study recounting how anti-apartheid protesters impeded the South African Springboks rugby tour, and stopped the cricket tour, to protest racial inequality.
International groups boycott Nestle products to end indiscriminate advertising, 1977-1984
An account of the boycott campaign against Nestle marketing artificial baby milks infant formula to developing countries.
Greenpeace and Sea Shepherds force Japanese seafood company Nissui to sell stakes in whale hunting ships 2005-2006
A case study about how Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd initiated a consumer boycott against Sealord Tuna to end whaling by its parent company, Nissui.
Divestment Campaign, 2013- 2021
A campaign case study covering fossil fuel divestment campaigns in Australia.
Acting Up! Podcasts on 45 Years of Friends of the Earth
A four part podcast series from community radio station 3CR celebrating 45 years of direct action by environmental group, Friends of the Earth.
30 years of Creative Resistance
30 years of Creative Resistance’ is a compilation of writing and art celebrating the work of Friends of the Earth Australia.
Fighting for the Foreshore: The Campaigns to Protect Mounts Bay and Kings Park
Read an account of Perth’s first two major urban conservation campaigns, the preservation of Kings Park bushland and the survival of Mounts Bay.
Environmental Blockading in Australia and Around the World – Timeline 1974-1997
A chronology of hundreds of blockades from around the world.
Listen and watch 40 years of Australian blockading songs
A list of songs from the last 40 years of the environmental movement in Australia including the Terania and Franklin River blockades.
Treesits, lock-ons and barricades: Environmental blockading in the 1980s
A series of podcasts about US, Canadian and Australian environmental blockades during the 1990s.
Blockades that changed Australia
Thirteen Australian blockades that tackled issues including logging, coal seam gas, sand mining and other threats to the environment.
Effective action for social change: The campaign to save the Franklin River
This in-depth study provides lessons from one of the largest and most successful nonviolent direct action environmental protests in Australian history.
Tasmanian Wilderness Society blocks dam construction (Franklin River Campaign) 1981-83
A shorter case study concerning the blockade of the Tasmanian Franklin below Gordon Dam site.
Greenpeace pushes for global ban on CFCs 1986 – 1995
Greenpeace International agitated for a ban on chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) to protect the global ozone layer from ultraviolet radiation. This case study describes the campaign.
Australian Rainforest Action Groups boycott Malaysian rainforest timber, 1988-1994
Australian Rainforest Action Groups blockaded ships bringing rainforest timbers logged in Sarawak, Malaysia.
Om gaia dudes: The North East Forest Alliance’s old-growth forest campaign
This book chapter by Aidan Ricketts is about the key moments of the old forest growth campaign in northern NSW in the 1990s.
Reconciliation in the forest? An exploration of the conflict over the logging of native forests in the south west of Western Australia
This 2004 book looks at why two Western Australian social movement organisations on opposite sides of the logging debate continued to contest WA’s forest policy for so long.
Greenpeace pressures Coca-Cola to phase out HFC refrigeration for Olympic Games in Australia 2000-2004
A case study covering Greenpeace International’s agitation for Coca Cola to desist from HFC refrigerants prior to the Sydney Summer Olympics in 2000.
Victorian red gum forests: A historic victory
A comprehensive case study of the successful campaign to protect Victorian Red Gum Forests, including the successful building of a Green-Black alliance.
Enabling Emergence: The Bentley Blockade and the Struggle for a Gasfield Free Northern Rivers
A case study and theoretical examination of successful nonviolent direct action against fracking in the Northern Rivers Region in Australia.
Frontline Action on Coal: Ten Years on the Frontline
A retrospective concerning ten years of non-violent direct action against the coal industry in Australia.
Hazara asylum seekers hunger strike on Nauru, 2003-2004
A case study about how Hazara refugee asylum seekers engaged in hunger strikes to protest their continuing detention by Australia on Nauru.
Australian women protest conscription during Vietnam War [Save Our Sons (SOS)], 1965-1972
Save Our Sons opposed military conscription for Australia’s role in the United States invasion and occupation of Vietnam.
Brave Enough to say ‘No’: William White and the Fight against Military Conscription during the Vietnam War
Learn about Australian teacher William White’s fight against military conscription during the Vietnam War.
Draftmen Go Free: A History of the Anti-Conscription Movement in Australia
A book providing a thorough account of the Australian anti-conscription movement from 1964 to 1972.
Vietnam Moratorium Campaign: Australian citizens force end to participation in Vietnam War
A case study exploring how Australian civil society groups resisted military participation in the war in Vietnam through organised and nonviolent action, from the late 1960s to the early 1970s.
Case study of the Australian campaign against involvement in the Vietnam War.
From Protest to Politics: The Effectiveness of Civil Society in shaping the Nuclear-free Policy in Aotearoa New Zealand
An article outlining how New Zealanders successfully campaigned to ban nuclear-armed and powered ships from entering the country’s territorial waters, land and airspace.
Stepping Out For Peace: A History of CANE and PND (WA)
Stepping Out For Peace is an oral history of activism carried out by Western Australian groups People for Nuclear Disarmament (WA) and its forerunner the Campaign Against Nuclear Energy.
Project Iceberg: Fremantle’s response to visiting nuclear warships in the 1980s
A history of the unique nonviolent civil disobedience activities of a group of mainly Fremantle residents aimed at protesting visits by US nuclear warships between 1983 and 1985.
Always look on the bright side of life: The AIDEX ’91 story
An oral history of the 1991 blockade against the AIDEX arms fair.
NO WAR Opera House graffiti action: An interview with Dave Burgess
In this interview Dave Burgess discusses why he and his friend, Will Saunders, felt compelled to graffiti the Sydney Opera House and how they dealt with the court case and incarceration that followed.
Anti-uranium and nuclear power campaigns
Australians campaign against nuclear power and uranium mining, 1974-1988
An account of how street marches and trade union action typified Australian resistance to the building of nuclear reactors and uranium mining and export.
The Australian Movement against Uranium Mining: Its Rationale and Evolution
In this paper, Marty Branagan provides a brief historical overview of the Australian movement against uranium mining, before focussing on two major campaigns: Roxby and Jabiluka.
See other examples of anti-uranium activism listed under ‘First Nations Activism in Australia’ above.
Australians general strike for right to unionize, Brisbane, Australia, 1912
Brisbane unionists organised a general strike in 1912 to protect and enhance the rights of workers to organise.
Against Fascism and War: Pig Iron Bob and the Dalfram Dispute, Port Kembla, 1938
A pamphlet about how waterside workers, seamen and the Wollongong community defied government and employer repression to place bans on raw materials being sent overseas to create munitions.
How workers defeated anti-strike laws in the 1970s
An excerpt from Without Bosses: Radical Trade Unionism in the 1970s about how mass defiance of anti-strike laws allowed Australian workers to engage in new forms of union activity.
An account of campaigns run by the NSW Builders Labourers Federation to protect sites of environmental and heritage significance.
The 1972 Sydney Opera House Work-In
The story of how the workers who built Opera House took over their workplace to prevent the sacking of a worker and directly introduce the 35-hour working week.
The Nymboida Coal Mine Takeover, NSW, 1975–1979
An account of how workers at the Nymboida coal mine resisted mass sackings by taking over and running the mine themselves in 1975, firstly through an occupation and then via union ownership.
Lessons that can be learnt from dockworkers who helped bring apartheid to its knees
Article about the transnational solidarity activism of maritime unions and how the actions of dockworkers in Australia helped drive the anti-apartheid movement.
How decades of fast food worker organising lead to “The Fight for 15”
An article chronicling US union campaigns amongst fast food workers in the 1980s.
Defending Unionism: The Weipa Dispute, 1995
An account of how workers in a small Cape York community forced the CRA-Rio Tinto to accommodate collective bargaining by combining strike action and a port blockade while drawing on national solidarity.
Tips for Turnout from Your Rights at Work
A case study of the Your Rights at Work campaign, which ran from 2005 to 2007 and included some of the largest mobilisations in Australian history.
Covers a number of resources including case studies and histories.
Lines of Resistance: What can the Old Left offer today’s creatives?
Five talks on the history of creative activism from the 19th century to the 1980s.
Defying Censorship: The New Theatre and Till The Day I Die
A book excerpt which tells the story of the New Theatre’s campaign against bans on an anti-fascist play in the late 1930s.
Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction, 1950 to 1986
A series of panel discussions about radical science-fiction and activism.
Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions (BUGA UP) campaigns against tobacco advertising, Australia, 1978-1994
A case study regarding civil disobedience actions which reversed tobacco advertising messages to show the negative health effects of cigarettes.
Activism and the power of humour
This paper draws on Australian case studies to demonstrate the continued evolution of the use of humour in environmental, peace, and social justice movements.
Humorous Political Stunts: Nonviolent Public Challenges to Power
An article about political stunts which includes actions undertaken by the John Howard Ladies’ Auxiliary Fan Club as a case study.
Pranks, performances and protestivals: Public Events
A number of examples from Australian history of fun, empowering and engaging public actions incorporating a creative approach.
Items of Mass Instruction Posters, Stickers, Memes and More
Examples from Australian history of creative means of spreading messages and information.
Changing the world via shock and beauty: Visual Artworks
Various visual artworks drawn from Australian campaigns for social change are highlighted here.
S11: Australians Blockade World Economic Forum
An account of how the S11 Alliance majorly disrupted the World Economic Forum in Melbourne during September 2000.
Carnival at Crown Casino S11 as Party and Protest
An exploration of the fun and pleasurable dimensions of the S11 anti-globalisation protests.
Globalisation unplugged: S11 World Economic Forum Protests
A compilation of Community Radio 3CR broadcasts from the convergence.
Become the Media: IndyMedia and S11
A description of the role of alternative media in the S11 anti-globalisation protests.
A History of LGBTIQ+ Victoria in 100 Places and Objects
A report about the rich, diverse and unique history of queer communities in Victoria as reflected in places, objects and landscapes.
What we can learn from the LGBTQ movement’s 50 years of achievement
Reflections from George Lakey on decades of LGBTIQ+ activism in the US.
Marriage Equality Campaign Timeline and Reflections
A timeline of events related to the Australian campaign for marriage equality along with reflection and analysis related to Australian, Irish and US campaigns.
An array of resources collated about the marriage equality campaign across the world including lessons learned about messaging and framing.
Housing Justice and Unwaged Campaigns
Jim Munro and the Unemployed Workers Movement in the 1920s and 1930s
A first-hand account of how the Unemployed Workers Movement undertook action in the 1920s and 1930s in Melbourne, Australia.
Walking Tours of Unemployed Resistance in Brunswick, 1929-35
This walking tour visits the sites of some of Melbourne’s fiercest unemployed battles in the inner suburb of Brunswick, including pickets, occupations and protests.
Lock Out The Landlords: Australian Anti-Eviction Resistance 1929-1936
A timeline of pickets, occupations and protests against evictions during the Depression years.
The 1931 Perth Treasury Building Riot – Unemployed workers during the Great Depression
An account of West Australian activism and the protests and tactics unemployed people used to fight for their rights.
Women Fighting Back in the Depression Years
Read about the role women played in unemployed movements during the Depression Years in Australia in this book excerpt.
Squatting’s place in winning Emergency Housing, 1945-48
A talk about how the squatting of empty houses and military camps forced governments in Australia to provide emergency shelter during the 1940s.
Victoria street squats: Anti development struggles in Sydney in the 1970s Interview with Ian Milliss
An interview with Ian Milliss about his involvement with Sydney’s Victoria St squats and how they became the focus of a long running anti-development struggle.
The radical history of unemployed activism
Includes an overview of the history of Australia’s welfare system and stories of activism from the 1920s, 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s – plus creative, humorous and confrontational tactics.
Resources About Australian Housing Justice and Unwaged Rights Campaigns
An extensive list of resources focused on case studies and stories of how communities have organised to secure housing, financial and other support for the unwaged and those on low incomes.
Films about Women & Social Justice and Change
An inspiring list of feature films and documentaries about women and social change including Women of Steel, Suffragette, Mission Blue, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry and more.
Changing the World: The Women’s Political Association
A book which tells the story of Australian women’s activism against war, sexism and poverty in the early twentieth century through the writings and voices of those involved.
Books about Women & Leadership
A list of key readings which includes memoirs and herstories.
A collection of reflections on Occupy Melbourne and its place in the global movement.
Occupy Melbourne: A Missed Opportunity
A case study by CounterAct from the 2014 report Creating Change in Australia.
Australian Radical History
From Little Things Big Things Grow: Events That Changed Australia
A list of small actions and major events which challenged the nature of Australian society and pointed to better ways forward.
A podcast series highlighting people, strategies and campaigns that changed Australia forever.
Tactics in a time of physical distancing: Examples from Australia’s progressive past
In response to the Coronavirus pandemic the Commons Library shared protests, campaigns and events from the past which highlighted ways to undertake action while maintaining safe health practices and physical distance.
People’s History of Australia Podcast
The People’s History of Australia-podcast and blog looks at Australian history from the perspective of ordinary people fighting together for a better life.
“When the bombs drop, school stops” – Over 100 years of Australian school strikes and direct action
Australia has a long history of students walking out of the classroom to demand change. A timeline of Australian school strikes from the 1930s until 2019.
Australian Actions at Different Points of Intervention
Examples from Australian history of how effective action can be undertaken at the point of production, consumption, destruction and other places.
Australian Actions at the Point of Assumption
Various examples from Australian history demonstrating how beliefs and understandings can be challenged at different Points of Assumption.
A Shelf of Reds: Neglected Radical Historians
Australian radical historians and activists, Rowan Cahill and Terry Irving, share a selection of books about radical Australian history.
Organising traditions, struggles and methods from around the world
The Mau Movement for Samoan Independence
A case study chronicling the Samoan movement for independence.
Films about social movement struggles, victories and leaders
Be inspired with this list of movies and documentaries about social movement struggles, victories and leaders – Selma, Harvey Milk, Karen Silkwood, Norma Rae, Gandhi and more.
ChangeMaker Chat with Ernie Cortes: Community Organising
In this podcast Ernie Cortes reflects on the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) under Saul Alinsky, his work building the IAF after Alinsky’s death, and some of the practices the IAF uses to develop powerful organisers.
Lessons from the Greensboro Student Sit-ins
An account of this 1960 campaign for African-American civil rights.
Organising Manual for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963
This organising manual was written by Bayard Rustin and distributed for the 1963 March on Washington, one of the largest civil rights rallies in US history.
Archiving and creating case studies
Activist Archiving: Start Here
A guide to archiving resources on the Commons Library and beyond.
Documenting social change in Australia: A list of archives at your fingertips
A list of various Australian archives collecting the country’s progressive history.
Learning from Peers and the Past: Writing Case Studies
This article provides tips for writing case studies that provide campaigners with opportunities to learn from their peers and the past.
Here is a template to help you get started writing case studies.
See other Topic overviews in the Commons library including:
- Creative Activism: Start Here
- First Nations Resources: Start Here
- Nonviolent Direct Action (NVDA): Start Here