Thousands of people have come from right across the country to join the Gurindji in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wave Hill walk-off.
Laura Morelli

19 Aug 2016 - 6:07 PM  UPDATED 19 Aug 2016 - 6:14 PM

Everyone who joined the march headed down to the banks of the Victoria River, which is where the Gurindji first set up their camp after they walked off Vesty station back in 1966.

Back then 200 Gurindji stockmen and house servants walked off Wave Hill station in protest against the poor treatment of Aboriginal Australians. The movement resulted in a portion of Gurindji land being handed back to traditional owners nine years later.

A symbolic handful of earth being poured into the hands of Vincent Lingiari by former Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, would forever capture the first major victory of Indigenous land rights.

A memorial was unveiled by Gurindji Elders, Senator Patrick Dodson, Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten and Member for Lingiari, Warren Snowden.

Thousands then gathered behind the replica of the Bedford Truck that Brian Manning and Dexter Daniels drove during the strike to facilitate the Gurindji with supplies.

Many people, including Brian Manning Jr, used today's walk-off to celebrate the achievement of their ancestors.

“For me it’s about remembering a role my father and his friends played in the walk-off… there’s a lot of fondness associated with his memory and his deeds and his fight for equal pay and land rights,” Manning Jr said.

“I think this is a day that needs to be commemorated across the nation, it’s something that all Australians should be very proud of.”

“Struggle and triumph” powerful words with relevant meaning were painted on flags held by the Gurindji elders. The Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Australian flags were raised to unveil the official walking track plaques at Kalkarindji, 800 kilometres south of Darwin.

The crowd was welcomed by Gurindji elder Jimmy Wavehill, who recalled his memories walking off the station 50 years ago.

"All the struggling we had at Wave Hill, I know it was not easy, those Vestey's giving us a hard time," said Mr Wavehill, Vincent Lingiari's brother-in-law.

"Now you mob make us happy, thank you for being here."

Other Gurindji men spoke about their fond memories walking off the station and Vincent Lingiari's granddaughter spoke fondly of her grandfather.

During the Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister’s speech, small crowds gathered and turned their backs on him, yelling in protest.

Nigel Scullion was addressing the crowd at the Freedom Day festival marking the 50th anniversary of the Wave Hill walk-off.

Some tried to drown out Nigel Scullions speech...chanting, "Always was, always will be Aboriginal Land".

The groups also held up signs that read "No justice, just us" referring to the abuse of young people in detention in the Northern Territory.

The protest lasted several minutes before the group was asked to sit down, out of respect to the Gurindji elders.

Brian manning says the focus shouldn't be on Scullion, but on what should be done for the community.

“We want to see better outcomes for the people here, things aren’t getting better, there’s not even a senior school available. I was here 10 years ago and comparing back then with now, education is going backwards, that’s something that needs to change,” he said.

“More people need to understand the significance of a day like today in order to facilitate a treaty… aboriginal people know they’re the first ones here, they don’t need a document they need fair dinkum action on the ground – positive action that reflects true mateship.”

The festival continues across the weekend with a range of activities celebrating Gurindji culture including film, talks and panels, art exhibits, some fireworks and of course a sporting carnival.

One of the highlights will be a JikJik, also known as a ‘Come Out’ concert that’s set to include a Wajarra (dance) to be performed by the young Gurindji boys for the first time in many years. The Gurindji women will also perform their ceremonial dance.

Performers including the likes of Dan Sultan, REMI, N’fa Jones, Afro Moses and Eats Journey are set to put on a solid show.

Remembering 50 years ago today:

Kerry Author Gibbs remembers being in the same spot 50 years ago with Brian Manning, Dexter Daniels and Robert Tudawali. However this time, he is the sole survivor and says the people that went on strike here were strong, resilient and knew what they wanted.

NITV: Tell us what it’s like being here today

“It didn’t touch me until I turned around the corner and saw just how many people have come today, and to see most of the people here are here to celebrate, this is the start of everything that happened for the land rights movements throughout the whole of Australia… Wave Hill is the main catalyst for land right change. The people that went on strike here were strong, resilient and knew what they wanted and they never swayed.”

NITV: Did you know back then when this all started that the strike would go on for as long as it did and that it would change the course of Australian history.

“To me it was an adventure that any 15 year old boy could never surpass, to come out here avoiding station bosses and to be with these people who were mates… I’ve come here and I can’t believe how few of us are alive, but there are so many that are alive and it’s fantastic to be here. ”

None of us have faulted, even the kids here today, they all know what happened; they’ve been educated and know exactly what has happened and why we are here today so that will continue in history.

"In those days it wasn’t much for a cattle station to knock off a couple of black fellas."

NITV: Tell us about the importance of this day

“It’s a very poignant day for Australian aboriginals and the thing we are celebrating today is the day of the walk off. They came from a cattle station and in those days it wasn’t much for a cattle station to knock off a couple of black fellas prepared to argue with their boss, so they had huge hearts, huge goals, but all simple goals those that everybody deserves.. A bit of freedom, a bit of justice and eventually their own land, which, that’s the main thing. That’s the main thing.”   

NITV: They must have been incredibly brave and incredibly resilient, tell us more about this

There was no protection for them, the cops didn’t give a bugger and welfare did nothing… But look at this joint, who in their right mind would want to live here if they didn’t own it. And that’s what we have to think about, that dirt is everything - It means more than you could actually understand. I’d like everybody to really understand what these people have done.

NITV: It must be so nice for you to see how many people have come to this anniversary, do you think this will continue in 100 years or so, that this will never be forgotten?

My nephews children will be here, there children’s children will be here, my niece is Brian Mannings daughter and my nephew is Brian Manning’s son, they all have their children here, so they’ve experienced it… this will never be forgotten.  

How Aboriginal photographer Mervyn Bishop captured famous Wave Hill pic
Mervyn Bishop's photo of Gough Whitlam pouring sand into the hands of Vincent Lingiari has become an icon of the Aboriginal land rights movement. But the story of how it was captured is one of spontaneity and chance.