As the dust settled and the sun was setting on a very dry and warm 30-degree day in the small town of Aurukun, Cape York, the community came together to watch the premiere of landmark feature documentary, Wik Vs Queensland —a powerful story about the historic Wik decision that changed the course of Australian history.
The community screening took place at the newly opened Wo’uw Ko’alam Community Centre on the outskirts of town. In attendance were descendants of Wik claimants and their families, along with many of the Wik community.
Hundreds packed the Wo’uw Ko’alam for a pre-screening barbeque and cake and to share stories of their people’s fight more than twenty years ago during the historic Wik Case.
Playful and energetic children were running around laughing, unaware of the magnitude of what their elders before them had gone through to fight for the rights to their land. Now, that fight has been captured in a documentary that they will be able to look back on in years to come and understand the resilience and strength of their people who kept fighting until the end to win their Native Title Case.
Aurukun is a small town of approximately 1,270 people, located on the far west coast of Cape York, about two hours’ drive south of Weipa in Far North Queensland. The Wik People are the Traditional Owners of the area and known as the first Indigenous people to have contact with Europeans. Many people speak Wik Mungkan language, one of the top ten most widely spoken Aboriginal languages in Australia, which has been passed down through the generations.
Wik vs. Queensland by filmmaker Dean Gibson documents the 1996 historical decision by the High Court of Australia granting Native Title to the Wik People in the momentous case, Wik Peoples vs The State of Queensland. The documentary features never before seen archival footage, interviews by family members of Wik claimants as well as interviews with Noel Pearson, Professor Marcia Langton and other significant individuals involved in the case who give recounts of the events that took place during the highly political, highly publicised legal case.
The premiere screening was opened by Janine Chevathun, the daughter of Wik claimant Norma Chevathun who features in documentary. Janine gave a heartfelt Welcome To Country explaining, “this is a significant time for the Wik Nation, this has been a struggle for our ancestors, for the Wik nation, the Wik land”. Other speeches followed by the Aurukun Mayor Derek Walpo, NITV’s Queensland Correspondent Ella Archibald-Binge and writer and director, Dean Gibson.
As the credits rolled at the film’s end, so did the tears of those in the audience. I sat down and spoke to Phyllis Kunkaporta, former Deputy Mayor of Aurukun, who is also featured throughout the documentary. For her, it brought back many memories from the case and she explained how proud she was “that the elders stood strong” and she wants to encourage the youth of today “always stand up and fight with your tongue and stand firm and stand strong”.
Fiona Wirrer-George Oochunyung, granddaughter of Wik claimant Jean George, was also very moved by seeing the completed documentary.
“I hope that it is a dynamic powerful reminder and revitalisation of community awareness to be reminded of those very very strong warriors that have demonstrated and left with us a legacy, one that we are to be proud of and one that we are to revisit and hold in our mind, our psyche, our heart place, our spirit and every cell of our being that reminds us of the strength of a nation.”
Keri Tamwoy, daughter of Wik claimant Alison Woolla, who attended the screening with her family. told me how emotional and powerful it was to simply be on Country and watch with the community, explaining that she had to hold back tears right from the start. Keri explained,
“Our story, our fight, our struggle, our sweat, our tears. All of that needs to be widely known by the rest of Australia and the world,” she said.
“Our story, our fight, our struggle, our sweat, our tears. All of that needs to be widely known by the rest of Australia and the world.”
“Seeing the images of my elders painted up and walking out; a fire in the belly has started after seeing them and their strength carries us today.
“I look to the past so that I can move forward into the future. I was so privileged to be raised around people like Gladys Tybingoompa (Wik claimant) who taught me you can be a black woman but don’t ever be afraid to speak what you feel in your heart.”
It was not only an emotional moment for the Wik people but also an emotional and proud moment for writer and director, Dean Gibson who described how he felt being back in Aurukun, with the community to premiere the documentary.
“Wik Vs Queensland is almost three years in the making and has been a massive journey going right back to the seed of the story. And then coming to community and meeting the Wik people and getting permission; that was always going to be the key and most important part of the phase,” he says.
“Once the community gave permission and encouraged me along the journey of telling the story, it was just a matter of getting in and doing the hard work.
“To see it come to fruition tonight is amazing and to see the families of some of those people who were in the film, in the archives, some of the daughters, sons, sisters and brothers of all those people here tonight to celebrate that story 30 years on is nothing short of amazing and it’s a testament to the community and testament to the team behind the scenes to make this film possible.”
As an Arrente and Wiradjuri woman from New South Wales, I was a long way from my own Country, but felt a great connection to this place.
I have been lucky and privileged to spend the past few days in beautiful Cape York in Far North Queensland visiting places like Weipa, Aurukun and Napranum and being embraced by Traditional Owners, like Fiona who took NITV to visit to the picturesque water’s edge in Napranum where she grew up and told us about the area.
But also, to meet the young people living in the region and some of the talented artists who create beautiful artwork which will be showcased at Cairns Indigenous Art Fair in the coming months.
I would like to thank the Wik people for being so welcoming and for sharing their story with us.
Lowanna Grant is an Arrente/Wiradjuri woman. Follow Lowanna @lowannagrant
Wik Vs Queensland will be screened at the Sydney Film Festival on Saturday 9 June and will have it's television broadcast on Sunday 8 July NITV as part of the NAIDOC line up of programming.