Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised in parliament to all Aborigines for laws and policies that "inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss".
He singled out the "Stolen Generations" of thousands of children forcibly removed from their families.
The apology, beamed live around the country on TV, was met with cheers.
But some Aborigines say it should have been accompanied with compensation for their suffering.
‘Indignity and degradation’
In a motion passed unanimously by Australian MPs on Wednesday morning, Mr Rudd acknowledged the "past mistreatment" of all of his country’s Aboriginal population.
"We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians," the motion said.
Mr Rudd said he apologised "especially" to the Stolen Generations of young Aboriginal children who were taken from their parents in a policy of assimilation which lasted from the 19th Century to the late 1960s.
"For the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry."
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