Australia : National Museum acquires iconic Bedford truck from the Wave Hill walk-off
Posted August 03, 2016 16:55:25
A piece of Indigenous land rights history is set to leave to the Northern Territory after local heritage authorities gave permission for a rusting Bedford truck to be sent to the National Museum of Australia (NMA) in Canberra.
Led by Vincent Lingiari, hundreds of Gurindji people went on strike on the vast Vesteys cattle station at Wave Hill in the NT between 1966 and 1975.
The J series Bedford truck was used by unionists, including its owner Brian Manning, during those years to deliver letters and food to the strikers.
Darwin resident Kerry Gibbs was just a teenager when he went on a "big adventure" with Manning, Dexter Daniels and Robert Tudawali on the first Bedford truck run to Wave Hill in 1966.
What Mr Gibbs saw when they arrived at the cattle station still shocked him today.
"The conditions were a tin humpy, no electricity, no water, no toilet, and a 44-gallon tank out the front for water," he said.
"The old man [Vincent Lingiari] wanted his country back. He was a very inspirational man."
It soon became apparent that the strike was about much more than workers' conditions, with it eventually culminating in the hand back of land to the Gurindji people by prime minister Gough Whitlam in 1975.
The Bedford truck was used for many more years by Manning for May Day parades through to mining protests and driving around his family.
It finally went off the road in the late 1980s and then sat in Manning's Darwin backyard slowly deteriorating under a tarp.
Manning and other unionists long advocated for its restoration yet bemoaned a lack of funds, with the ABC citing a letter signed by Gurindji representatives in 2011 to the Heritage Advisory Council proposing restoration.
It was listed as an NT heritage object in 2010, sent to the Motor Vehicle Enthusiasts Club at the Qantas hangar in Darwin's suburbs around the same time, and finally bequeathed to Mr Gibbs after Manning's death in 2013.
'It's not buggered but it's pretty close'
Mr Gibbs described himself as "pretty emotional" about the state of the truck today.
"It's not buggered but it's pretty close," he said.
It has spent several wet seasons uncovered and unmarked in the Qantas hangar's car park, however both Mr Gibbs and Manning's son Brian said there was no sole factor to blame for its current state.
Mr Gibbs, today a Darwin-based mechanic, said the only right Northern Territory location to send the truck was Dagaragu, the site of the 1975 land hand back.
He said doing this would cost $40,000 and there was no obvious safe place to keep it safe, and consultation with Gurindji elders had therefore led to a decision to send it to Canberra instead.
University of NSW PhD candidate Brenda Croft has spent much time consulting with the NMA and secured its formal request to transport the truck interstate in early 2016, which needed to be formally approved by NT Government as per the Heritage Act.
From a car park to national museum
Last week the Department of Lands, Planning and the Environment confirmed to the ABC that it was releasing the truck to the NMA after consultations with the NT Government museum, MAGNT, and the Heritage Council.
The head of NMA's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander program, Patricia Williamson, said she was "honoured and proud" by the outcome.
"This truck is equally an important symbolic reminder of the ongoing story of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians supporting land rights for Aboriginal people," she said.
The truck will not be restored in line with museum policy and will instead be stabilised to prevent further deterioration.
Mr Manning Jnr, who is affiliated with the Labor Party, said he had received some interest to keep the truck locally, including from ALP members, however the "next best thing" was to see it showcased for all Australians.
"There's a lot of stuff with historical significance that, in my view, doesn't get taken care of," he said.
"I think [why the] museum down in Canberra has taken an interest is that they understand with inanimate objects that, sometimes, something as inconspicuous as an old Bedford truck can tell us a lot of stories about our past, where we've been, and where we're going.
"That little truck was a little piece in the tapestry of [the Indigenous land rights] story."
The truck is unlikely to be sent to Canberra before the 50th anniversary of the Wave Hill walk-off, set to be marked this month with three days of commemorations at Kalkarindji.
Mr Gibbs and Mr Manning Jnr have acquired another Bedford to take part in the celebrations.
"Its starter motor isn't working but it has a crank. It has 1970s tyres that need to be replaced. The brakes are a bit like me — they're a bit worn out," Mr Gibbs said.
"I'm gonna push the bastard across [Kalkarindji] or it's going to be driven across."