The Institute Times

Wave Hill Walk Off

Students from the Student Action for Aborigines group in Walgett, NSW 1967.
Striking Gurindji stockmen and their families with Dexter Daniels in 1966 Source: Photograph courtesy Brian Manning and the Kalkaringi/Daguragu Freedom Day web site.

In August 1966, 200 Aboriginal stockmen and domestics, employed on Wave Hill Station in the Northern Territory, went on strike for better pay and conditions. The workers, mainly Gurindji were led by Vincent Lingiari. Wave Hill Station was owned by British cattle company owner, Lord Vestey.

The workers set up camp at Wattie Creek, part of Wave Hill Station and 13 km from the Wave Hill settlement, established the community of Daguragu. The Gurindji were supported by the North Australian Workers Union, who took the struggle to the nation through demonstrations in southern Australia. At one fundraising meeting a donor gave a cheque for $500 after hearing Vincent Lingiari speak. The donor was the highly respected Ophthalmologist, Dr Fred Hollows.

Australian author, Frank Hardy also helped the Gurindji with a petition to the Governor-General of Australia claiming 1290 square kilometres to develop their own cattle station. The claim was refused.

In July 1968, the government decided to establish a township at Wave Hill, as a centre for Gurindji and other Aboriginal people. Most Gurindji remained at Daguragu, despite the lack of facilities and Vesteys agreed to leave them undisturbed.

In 1972, the Australian Government made funds available for the purchase of properties not on reserves and Lord Vestey offered to surrender 90 square kilometres to the Gurindji people.

Nearly a decade later, in 1975, the Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam met with the Gurindji at Daguragu and transferred leasehold title of 3236 square kilometres of land purchased from Wave Hill back to the Gurindji. At a ceremony, the transfer was symbolised by Whitlam placing a handful of soil in Vincent Lingiari hands.

What started as a protest for better pay and conditions became a test case for Aboriginal land rights. This protest became known as the Wave Hill Walk Off and Vincent Lingiari and the Gurindji people became immortalised in Australia’s popular culture through the song written and performed by musicians Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody From Little Things Big Things Grow.

On 9 August 2007, the Wave Hill walk-off route the Gurindji people took was included in Australia’s National Heritage List.