• 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)
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.
By
Rangi Hirini

Source:
NITV News
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.

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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.”

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