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Vincent Lingari

In: Historical Events

Submitted By juliakj
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Pages 6 Vincent Lingiari, Leader and Elder of Gurindji people head stockman ay Wave Hill cattle Station. Lingiari was described as a quietly spoken, dignified, non-violet, but very strong willed and determined man. He could not read or write, but he was a natural leader (Guile. 2010. P.8). He felt the injustice of the Europeans taking traditional Gurindiji land and was determined to get it back. Lingiari was fearless in standing up to cattle station bosses and was very clever at gaining support for his land rights. (Albert. T. 2009. p.16) “We want that Vesty mob to go away from here. To go away from here and never come back. Go where they came from. This been Gurindiji country. All this is Gurindji country” (Vincent Lingiari 1966).
At Wave Hill cattle station, managed by the Vesty Pastoral company, many of the workers were Indigenous Australians who had been treated unfairly for years and their living and working conditions were appalling. The Company made huge profits by paying indigenous workers flour and beef instead of money (Guile. 2010. P.8). Indigenous families at Wave Hill liven in iron huts with dirt floors and no lights, running water or toilets. There were no schools or health clinics (Thompson. L. 1990 p.103) Billy Bunter Jampijinpa was 16 at the time of the walk out. About living conditions at Wave hill cattle station he said “ We were treated just like dogs…we lived in time humpies [shelters] you had to crawl in and out on your knees… The Vestey’s mob were hard men. They didn’t care about blackfellas.” (Sydney Morning Herald, 19 August 2006). In 1966 Vincent Lingiari requested the Wave hill cattle station manager Tom Fisher to pay indigenous stockmen the equivalent as the other workers. Fisher Refused (Guile. 2010. P.8).
Lingiari lead the indigenous people living at Watti Creek to a ‘walk-off’. They left the cattle station demanding better wages and title to traditional land (Guile. 2010. P.8). They were also concerned about the sexual exploitation of their women by white workers from the Vesty property (Central Land Council. 2006). This ‘walk-off’ became one of the greatest emblematic events in Australian land rights. Nine years after the ‘walk-off’, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam went to Watti Creek, now known by its traditional name ‘Dagaragu’ to hand over a lease of the land to the traditional owners (Land and Sea Rights. 2003). While pouring a handful of earth into the hands of Vincent Lingiari, Whitlam declared “Vincent Lingiari I solemnly hand to you these deed as proof, in Australian law, that these lands belong to the Gurindji people and I put into your hands part of the earth itself as a sign that this land will be in the possession of you and your children forever” (Chesters, T. 2009 p.90) Vincent Lingiari replied with, “They took our country away from us, now they have brought it back ceremonially. We are all mates now.” (Chesters, T. 2009 p.91) Lingiari continued to lead the Gurindji people as they established the company on the lands finally recognised as belonging to them. His leadership during the campaign for Gurindji land resulted in Vincent Lingiari becoming a national iconic figure demonstrating, the fight of Aboriginal people to have their rights to the land (Albert. T. 2009. p.16).

Through his efforts and achievements Lingiari became the father figure for indigenous land rights. He created a pathway for Indigenous Australians to begin fighting for land rights and many other rights. The Gurindji campaign was an important influence on many following events leading to the recognition of Aboriginal land rights, including the passing of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (Northern Territory) 1976 (Chesters, T. 2009 p.90). In 1972 an Aboriginal man Gary Foley, was involved in setting up the Aboriginal Tent Embassy outside Parliament to protest for right including land rights (Albert. T. 2009. p.15). In 1982 Eddie Koiki Mabo and with fellow Torres Strait Islanders began a campain to legally own The Mer (Murry Island). In June 1992, the High Court of Australia ruled that Australia was not terra nullius when it was settle by the British in 1788. It ruled that Mabo and his fellow Meriam people had traditional ownership of Mer (Albert. T. 2009. p.19) If it was not for Vincent Lingiari these following events might have never happened. Lingiari demonstrated to Indigenous Australians that by taking action they can stand up for their rights and make a difference.
Lingiari’s actions were brought to the attention of all Australians through the media. The effort, persistence and determination demonstrated by Lingiari and everybody else involved in this protest allowed the Australian public to identify the importance of the land for Aboriginals and assisted the public in recognising Indigenous Australians as ‘people’ and a ‘people’ who have morals, beliefs and values. Only one year after the Wave Hill ‘walk-off’ an important event changed the rights of Indigenous people. In 1967 Australians voted ‘yes’ in a referendum to allow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be counted in the census, which finally gave citizenship rights to Indigenous Australians (Right Wrongs Write Yes. n.d.). Lingiari also demonstrated to the Australian population through his actions the importance and effect of democracy and the power of the unions which assist in empowering many other Australians suffering from discrimination or inequality.
Vincent Lingiari was very courageous for leading this protest. He had no guidance, past experience and there had been no event in Australian history like this for him to learn from. I feel Vincent Lingiari demonstrated that reconciliation is not something that can happen in a day or in year. It is an continuing process which includes the government and people. The past fifty years has shown progress in the reconciliation of Aboriginal and Anglo Australians. The 1967 referendum was itself an overpowering representation of the Australia’s support for Australia’s indigenous population. Although we can recognise and celebrate these achievements, it is important to also recognise the failures and recommit to ensuring reconciliation, to make sure that all indigenous Australians can take charge of their own lives.


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