Documenting Democracy
Australia's Story
Choose a pathway
Foundation – the basic 'blueprints' of the Australian colonies, the Northern Territory and the Commonwealth

Building – documents that define the ways colonial parliaments and courts actually developed, and how the Federation was shaped into today's Commonwealth of Australia

Freedoms – documents about equality and inequality define who is included in a democracy

Land – key documents defining relations to land range from recognition of the rights of Indigenous people, to the simplification of property titles.

Exploring the laws of Australia
Exploring the laws of Australia could take us back more than 60 000 years, following the history of the law and society of Indigenous people to the earliest recorded evidence of their lives in this country. A good start for that story is this map of Aboriginal Australia – created by Dr David Horton and produced by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.

Note: This map indicates only the general location of larger groupings of people. The larger groups may include smaller groups such as clans, dialects or individual languages in a group. Boundaries are not intended to be exact. The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and not those of AIATSIS. For more information about the groups of people in a particular region contact the relevant land councils. The map is not suitable for use in native title and other land claims. See: Copyright – AIATSIS for ordering information.
Even if we only followed the much shorter trail of the British legal tradition, we would have to go back eight centuries to 1215, in order to start from its source document, the Magna Carta. This website follows a very much shorter and more recent route to trace how Australians built a democracy on a base of British law and forms of government.

Documenting a Democracy begins with the first document which brought British law to Australia in 1768, and covers the period until the latest constitutional change, in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) in 2004. Even though this seems a short journey by comparison with the story of Aboriginal sovereignty, or even the rule of law developed in Britain, it is easy to get lost in the documents and difficult to discern any direct path of development between them.

You can try finding the ways various documents relate to each by following the pathways marked out - maybe you can think of other pathways between some of the documents too. The four pathways set out here cluster the documents around four themes listed in the left-hand margin of this page.