Saturday, August 19, 2006

Four decades after Wave Hill, Aborigines in renewed battle for land rights

Forty years ago next week, Vincent Lingiari led 400 Aboriginal stockmen and their families in a mass walk-out off Wave Hill, a remote cattle station in the Northern Territory, owned by a British beef baron, Lord Vestey.

The black workers, who were renowned as superlative horsemen and for their skill in handling cattle, wanted equal pay and conditions with white employees. But what began as a straight industrial dispute turned into something much bigger: the birth of the Aboriginal land rights movement.

The protesters, who were Gurindji people, stayed out on strike for eight years, setting up camp 11 miles from Wave Hill, at a waterhole known as Daguragu. They demanded the return of their ancestral lands, and their actions seized the popular imagination, evolving into a national campaign for indigenous land rights.

After the company, Vesteys, finally gave in, the Labour prime minister, Gough Whitlam, travelled to Wave Hill, where he poured a handful of red dirt into Mr Lingiari's outstretched palm. The gesture signalled the restitution to the Gurindji people of the title to 1,250 square miles of their traditional lands.