Wave Hill Walk-Off
August 20, 2020
On August 23, 1966, 200 Indigenous stockmen, domestic workers and families walked off the Wave Hill station, protesting the work and pay conditions that they were experiencing.
There had previously been attempts by the Gurindji people to negotiate better wages and working conditions, as the wages of Indigenous workers were generally controlled and not equal to the pay given to non-Indigenous employees.
The Wave Hill Walk-Off was led by Vincent Lingiari, a Gurindji spokesperson, and protestors walked over 20 kilometres to Daguragu (Wattie Creek) to camp, where they stayed for 9 years. This was an important and symbolic move, as they shifted away from the cattle station and closer to the community’s sacred sites.
Image: Vincent Lingiari during the Wave Hill Walk-Off, 1966 (Source: ABC)
The movement to another site showed that the Gurindji people were focused on reclaiming their land. The Gurindji people drafted a petition to the Governor-General, Lord Casey, asking him to grant a new lease of 1300 square kilometres around Daguragu to be run cooperatively as a mining and cattle lease. The Government-General replied that he was unwilling to grant the lease.
Despite the conditions and the circumstances, the workers and families continued to strike, with Lingiari touring Australia to lobby politicians and build support for change.
The election of a Labor Government led by Gough Whitlam presented a new opportunity to the Gurindji people to gain recognition and rights to the land. In 1972, Gough Whitlam announced that his government would ‘establish once and for all Aborigines’ rights to land’. In 1973, the Wave Hill lease was yielded, with two new leases established. This presented an opportunity for the Gurindji people to regain access to their land with a lease issued to the traditional owners through their Murramulla Gurindji Company.
In 1975, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam went to Daguragu to hand over the title of the land to the Gurindji people, by pouring soil into Vincent Lingiari’s hands. As he poured the soil he said the following:
“Vincent Lingiari, I solemnly hand to you these deeds as proof, in Australian law, that these lands belong to the Gurindji people”
Symbolic hand pour of land from Prime Minister Gough Whitlam to Vincent Lingiari, 1975 (Source: ABC)
The Wave Hill Walk-Off and the nine-year strike undertaken by the Gurindji people was vital to increasing awareness and understanding of Indigenous land ownership and lead to the passing of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. This act was the basis for which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people could apply for freehold titles to traditional lands.
The Wave Hill Walk-Off is one of the inspirational moments in the struggle by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for equality with the rest of Australia. It is in this spirit that the struggle for fair and practical change through the Uluru Statement From the Heart continues.
Join us in continuing this legacy and taking the next step for change.
Sign up to register your support for the Uluru Statement.