WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following article contains images of deceased persons.
The historically significant gesture of pouring of a handful of red soil by Gough Whitlam into Vincent Lingiari’s hand on 16 August 1975, symbolised the legal transfer of Wave Hill station back to the Gurindji people. It also meant the Gurindji became the first Aboriginal community to have land returned to them by the Commonwealth Government and would be a turning point - the start of the Aboriginal land rights movement for the rest of Indigenous Australia, that continues even today.
“Vincent Lingiari, I solemnly hand to you these deeds as proof, in Australian law, that these lands belong to the Gurindji people and I put into your hands part of the earth itself as a sign that this land will be the possession of you and your children forever,” Gough Whitlam said.
In response, Vincent Lingiari said this:
"Let us live happily together as mates, let us not make it hard for each other... We want to live in a better way together, Aboriginals and white men, let us not fight over anything, let us be mates.”
But what led to this historical event?
It was the unfair treatment of his fellow workers, his people and their families, that led Vincent Lingiari and other employees (some 200 hundred people), to stage a ‘walk-off’ at Wave Hill Station located approximately 600 kilometre’s south of Darwin, in the Northern Territory.
Wave Hill station was a cattle station run by Vesteys, a British pastoral company, which employed the local Aboriginal people from the area. Vincent Lingiari had noticed for quite some time that the working and living conditions for Aboriginal people were very bad, they were treated differently and were not paid equally compared to the non-Aboriginal employees. Even Lingiari, who was a head stockman, initially received no cash payment. The first time he had received money was around 1953 when he lined up with the other stockmen at the Negri River races and was given £5 ‘pocket-money’.
Vincent Lingiari, who was the Gurindji spokesman, and his fellow 200-strong protesters - stockmen, house servants, and their families, walked along a fence line to Gordy Creek before setting up camp on the Victoria River near the Wave Hill Welfare Station. They camped on higher ground during the wet season and in early 1967 moved to Wattie Creek, where they established the community of Daguragu.
The protesters petitioned the Governor General in 1967 and the leaders toured Australia to raise awareness about their cause.
In 1973, Prime Minister Whitlam announced that funds would be made available for the purchase of properties that were not on reserves, and Lord Vestey, from Vesteys pastoral company, surrendered the land in question to the Gurindji people.
The Gurindji walk-off would be the longest protest in Australian history.
Daguragu was acquired by the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission and, on 16 August 1975 at Daguragu, Prime Minister Whitlam transferred leasehold title to the Gurindji, symbolically running soil through Vincent Lingiari’s hands.
The Gurindji campaign was an important influence on the events leading to passing the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (Northern Territory) 1976.
Who was Vincent Lingiari?
Vincent Lingiari was a proud, hard-working, respected and dignified Gurindji man born in 1919 at Victoria River Gorge, Northern Territory. Both his parents were Gurindji and he was named after his father.
Vincent Lingiari started working on stations at approximately 12 years of age. He never received a formal education and was apparently called ‘Tommy Vincent’ by his employers.
His traditional Aboriginal wife was named Blanche Nangi and they had six sons and two daughters.
In 1976, Vincent Lingiari was named a Member of the Order of Australia for his services to the Aboriginal peoples.
He died on 21 January 1988 at Daguragu and was buried with traditional honours.
The Lingiari Foundation was formed in 2001 to promote reconciliation and Indigenous rights and to develop Aboriginal leadership.
The Vincent Lingiari memorial lecture is delivered annually in Darwin, Northern Territory.
The songs ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’, by Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody and ‘Old Vincent’, by Ted Egan, honour his memory.
The Northern Territory Federal electorate ‘Lingiari’ is named after him, and a memorial to him is located in Reconciliation Place, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory.
We asked people on the street how much they knew about this iconic image - here's what they had to say.
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