• Today marks the 53rd anniversary of the Wave Hill walk off, which some say was the first ever claim for traditional Aboriginal land in Australia | Mervyn Bishop (Mervyn Bishop)Source: Mervyn Bishop
Today marks 53 years since hundreds of Gurindji stockmen and their families walked off Wave Hill protesting against poor working conditions and the theft of their Country by pastoralists.
Rangi Hirini

23 Aug 2019 - 11:07 AM  UPDATED 23 Aug 2019 - 11:14 AM

This weekend marks 53 years since the Wave Hill walk-off, which was led by Vincent Lingiari and went on to fuel the modern Aboriginal land rights movement.

Their hard-won victory is remembered at an annual celebration in Kalkaringi, about 780kms south of Darwin.

The last of the Gurindji Elder’s surviving children, Timmy Vincent Lingiari, said he feels proud of his father’s legacy each year during the Freedom Day celebrations.

“They walked off the station, right through to Junarni, and then through to the river, then they stayed there and because of the floodwaters they moved up to the high grounds and that’s where the long wait started for nine years,” he told NITV News.

“My spirit lifts every year for Freedom Day, for my father.”

Handful of sand

The Wave Hill Walk-Off made headlines all over Australia after Indigenous workers demanding equal pay and better working conditions went on strike on August 23, 1966.

Two hundred stockmen and their families walked off the Wave Hill pastoral station and set up camp 30 kilometres away at Wattie Creek.

The strike soon turned into a fight for land rights that would stand strong for nine years.

In 1967, the Gurindji submitted a petition to the Governor-General asking for their land back. Their petition included a map of culturally important places on their Country and detailed the evolution of Gurindji myths and dreaming associated with these sites.

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.

Although their petition was unsuccessful in the first instance, over time the story of the stand the Gurindji people were making became a national story of courage, conviction and resilience.

On August 16 1975, almost a decade after the walk-off, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam returned the land to the Gurindji people. The picture of Whitlam pouring red sand into Vincent Lingari's hands would become one of Australia's most iconic and enduring images.

Future generations

The Freedom Day Festival starts Friday and continues through to Sunday. It begins with the opening of the Wave Hill walk-off track and there will be music and other entertainment each night.

Rob Roy, a spokesman for the Gurindji Aboriginal Corporation, said it was important to keep the story alive for future generations. He encouraged all Australians to join the walk.

“Put yourself in their shoes and think what they were thinking when they walked off, and feel their spirit with you,” he said.

“As young Gurindji people, we ask you to clearly support what our countrymen are doing. The key to all of this is education.”

Wave Hill walk off historian says Gurindji defiance remains an inspiration
Historian Charlie Ward has authored a new book on the Wave Hill walk-off, and tells NITV's Stan Grant there's still work to do in raising the public awareness of the historic event
Thousands march through Kalkarindji to mark 50 years since Wave Hill walk-off
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.
Wave Hill Walk-off remembered
One of the most significant events in the history of Aboriginal land rights has been remembered in the Northern Territory, Bill Code reports.