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Wave Hill Walk-off / Gurindji Strike

Category: Event
Date: 23 August 1966
Date To: August 1975
Place:Wave Hill
State/Country:Northern Territory, Australia
31km east of Kalkaringi
Subject Matter:Native Title | Recognition of Traditional Rights and Interests
Summary Information:

On 23 August 1966, 200 Gurindji workers and families initiated a strike action at Wave Hill station in the Northern Territory. Vincent Lingiari led the Walk-off, protesting against intolerable working conditions and inadequate wages.

The Gurindji protesters established a camp at Watti Creek and demanded the return of some of their traditional lands. This began a seven year fight by the Gurindji people to obtain title to their land.

The Strike eventually led to a portion of land being returned to the Gurindji people in 1974. It was also instrumental in the passing of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (Northern Territory) 1976 (Cth). This was the first Australian legislative act that allowed First Nations people to claim title to their lands.

Detailed Information:

The Gurindji peoples' land struggles with the Australian government began in 1883 when pastoralist Nathaniel Buchanan was granted 3000 square kilometres of Gurindji country. Aboriginal people were intrinsic to the expansion of pastoral activities in Northern Australia, often being exploited for cheap or even free labour.

In 1914 the Buchanan family sold Wave Hill to the Vestey Brothers, an international meat packing company. 

From 1913 legislation in the Northern Territory required Aboriginal workers to be compensated for work in tea, coffee, tobacco, food, and clothes (National Museum of Australia, 2020).

However, a report by anthropologists in 1946 highlighted that many children were working illegally, accommodation and rations were poor, women were sexually abused, and there was no safe drinking water - amongst many other complaints (National Museum of Australia 2020).

In 1959 Aboriginal peoples' wages were still up to 50% lower than European workers on the same stations, and some employers still refused to pay Aboriginal workers wages. In 1965, the North Australian Workers Union opposed this discrimination and proposed that discriminatory references in the pastoral award be deleted.

Opposition from pastoralists delayed the proposed increase in wages for Aboriginal workers. Heated discussions between the Gurindji community and authorities began, with no progress toward equal pay and better conditions being made throughout 1966.

This unrest led to the Gurindji community, led by Vincent Lingiari, walking off the station in August 1966. Consultations continued but no agreement was made and the workers remained off-site.

In April 1967 the Gurindji people moved their camp to Daguragu (Wattie Creek) and drafted a petition to the Governor-General proposing a land lease be granted around Daguragu to be run cooperatively by the Gurindji people. This petition was unsuccessful.

The Gurindji people remained at Daguragu and for the next seven years negotiations continued without resolution.

In 1972, the Whitlam Labour government came into power, with an election promise to prioritise Indigenous land rights. In 1973 the original Wave Hill lease was surrendered and two separate leases were issued to the Murramulla Gurindji Company and the Vestey Brothers.

The Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, met Vincent Lingiari in 1975 on Gurindji country and ceremoniously poured sand through Lingiari's hands to represent the return of lands to the Traditional Owners.

Related Entries

  • Daguragu 'Heritage and Tourism' Shared Responsibility Agreement (SRA)
  • Dodd (Vincent) on behalf of the members of Jamangku, Japuwuny, Parlakuna-Palkinykarni and Yilyilyimawu landholding groups v Northern Territory of Australia [2020] FCA 1279
  • Ryan on behalf of the members of the Central Limbunya, Nawurlala, Parayi-Kakaru and Tjutamalin landholding groups v Northern Territory of Australia [2020] FCA 1283
  • Organisation
  • Gurindji Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC
  • Event
  • Kalkaringi Constitutional Convention
  • The Pilbara Strike
  • The 1967 Referendum
  • Uluru-Kata Tjuta Handback
  • Legislation
  • Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cth)
  • Aborigines Act 1905 (WA)
  • People
  • Gurindji People

  • References

    General Reference
    National Museum Australia (10 June 2020) Wave Hill Walk-Off
    News Item
    Elliana Lawford (23 Febuary 2018) Wave Hill 50th Anniversary: Timeline of the station walk of and Gurindji land handback


    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Australia) | State Government

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