Australia : Wave of support to recall historic indigenous workers strike
FIFTY years after Gough Whitlam travelled to Wave Hill station in the Northern Territory to return the land
to the Gurindji people, a celebration will be held to commemorate this historic triumph for the land rights movement.
Members of the Australian Council of Trade Unions will travel to Darwin to join community elders for the ceremony, with speeches, song and traditional dancing in the community of Daguragu.
The anniversary commemorates the long campaign of Vincent Lingiari, who in 1966 led about 200 Aboriginal stockmen and their families in the great Walk-Off from Wave Hill Station to protest against brutal working conditions and battle the pastoralists taking Aboriginal land.
After years of struggle the Gurindji won through, and on August 16, 1975, Mr Whitlam poured soil into the hands of Vincent Lingiari to mark the return of more than 3,000 square kilometres of the Wave Hill land to his people.
“I want to promise you this act of restitution we perform today will not stand alone,” he said. “Your fight was not for yourselves alone, and we are determined that Aboriginal Australians everywhere will be helped by it.”
Kara Keys, Indigenous Officer with the ACTU, says the Wave Hill victory was a proud moment.
“The anniversary provides an opportunity to remember the great advances that have been hard won by those involved in the land rights movement, and the continuing fight for equality before the law and in the workplace for indigenous people,” Ms Keys told Working Life.
“The ACTU executive is relocating to Darwin in August as a demonstration of the union movement’s commitment to fighting for equality for all people, and in recognition of the pivotal role the Wave Hill Walk Off played in the ongoing fight for Indigenous equality in Australia.”
Ms Keys warned that many of the advances made in the wake of Gough Whitlam’s symbolic gesture are being lost because of the narrow-minded and unfair policies of the current Coalition Government.
“Many of the challenges faced by the workers of Wave Hill are still faced by indigenous workers today,” she says.
“Discriminatory policies such as the Community Development Program echo the policies that oppressed those who walked off Wave Hill, and the union movement stands fully committed to the ultimate goal of complete equality for all workers in this country.”
Linda Burney, newly elected as the first Aboriginal woman in the House of Representatives, agrees.
“There’s an awful paternalism creeping back and a regression in the way Aboriginal affairs are administered,” she said.
But she is not giving up, and recalls the way Aboriginal and and social justice leaders celebrated in 1974, when national songwriter Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody released the song From Little Things Big Things Grow to mark the Gurindji people’s victory for land rights.
“The stars were in line — the strike coincided with the beginnings of a concerted Aboriginal rights movement,” says Ms Burney.
“That old man and his mob and all their supporters were main actors in a renaissance in Aboriginal self-determination, pride and identity.”
Ms Burney will now be bringing the fight for equality to the national political stage, with constitutional reform to recognise indigenous rights at the top of the agenda.
“Treaty and recognition are not mutually exclusive and suggesting otherwise is simply untrue,” she says. “I think we can do both.”