Vincent Lingiari

Indigenous Rights and Freedoms

By: Georgia Peterson

Background and Personal History

Vincent Lingiari was born in 1908 in Victoria Gorge, Northern Territory. Lingiari was an Aboriginal rights activist and stockman. He was a member of the Gurindji people of the Northern Territory. Lingiari received no formal education and by the age of 12, he was already working at Wave Hill Cattle Station. The cattle station was located approximately 600km south of Darwin and Vincent Lingiari eventually became head stockman at the cattle station. The Wave Hill Station was owned by the British pastoral company Vesteys, and was managed by Lord Vestey. The Aboriginal people working on the station were primarily Gurindji people. A significant event in Lingiari's life was when in 1966 he led the Wave Hill strike. Lingiari was received an Order of Australia Medal for his services to Aboriginal people. He died on January 21st 1988 within the Daguragu community.

Role in the Struggle for Rights and Freedoms

Vincent Lingiari played a significant role in the struggle for the rights and freedoms for Aboriginal people. The working and living conditions for men and women on the Wave Hill Cattle Station run by Vesteys, were very poor. The wages of the Aboriginal employees were not equal to those non-Aboriginal employees. Most Aboriginal employees on the Wave Hill Station were a part of the Gurindji tribe, including Lingiari. In source 1, it is evident that Vincent Lingiari decided to take a stand against the inequality occurring on the cattle station towards Aboriginal employees. In 1966, Vincent Lingiari made a request to the manager of the Wave Hill station, asking for a $25 weekly wage for Aboriginal workers on the station. Although the requested $25 weekly wage was still less than the wages received by non-Aboriginal workers, this request was rejected.
Following the rejection of this request, on the 22nd of August 1966, Lingiari led a group of 200 fellow stockmen and servants employed on the cattle station along with their families, to strike and walk off from work. They initially set up camp in Victoria river. As evident in source 2, the ‘walk off’ was initially intended to improve the wages for the Gurindji workers, although it later turned into a strike to claim land. The source makes clear the Gurindji people wanted to claim back their traditional land, as it held great significance within their culture. In source 1, Lingiari petitioned to the Governor-General for the return of 500 miles of the land leased to Vesteys. A key term used by Lingiari in the letter he wrote to the Governor-General, Lord Casey was, "We feel that morally the land is ours and should be returned to us". This request was declined. The Gurindji strikers moved in 1967 to a location 30km away, at Wattie Creek. The Wattie Creek location, also known as Daguragu was of great significance to the Aboriginal people, as it was the central to their culture and tradition. Source 1 also makes apparent that the Aboriginal people were standing firm as they did not return to station work, drawing in more public attention. The government promised the Gurindji ownership of another township, which was rejected. The source indicates that the claim was of great magnitude as it was the first claim for traditional Aboriginal land that had been made in Australia. In source 3, it is evident Lingiari had gained a significant amount of support from the public. The flyer promotes that Australian should not purchase products supplied by Vesteys, which shows the immense support there was for the campaign. The strike lasted for nine years, until 1975.

Short Term Successes

The Wave Hill 'Walk Off' and petitioning led by Vincent Lingiari led to short term successes in Aboriginal rights and freedoms. Through the sources 4 and 5, it is evident that a short term success was achieved as on the 16th of August 1975, the Gurindji people received the lease for Wattie Creek, also know as Daguragu, was handed over to them. This was clearly a great achievement as Wattie Creek (Daguragu) was of great significance in the Gurindji culture and tradition. Source 4 indicates the magnitude of the achievement made by Lingiari, as the Prime minister, Gough Whitlam was returning the land to the original owners. In the extract from source 4, "this piece of the earth itself as a sign that we restore them to you and your children forever", it is clear that Whitlam is sincere as he explains that the Gurindji people now have ownership of the land that was originally theirs. Whitlam handed the dirt from the Wattie Creek land over to Lingiari, finalising the handing over of the land. The presence of the Prime Minister indicates the event was of a large scale. Source 5, an image of Vincent Lingiari standing beside the plaque that marked the handing over of the lease to his people, Lingiari looks proud that his efforts had paid off. This success would enable the Gurindji people to practice their traditional culture, without having to worry about not owning the land.

Sources 4 and 5 also make clear of another short term success, the success of drawing national attention and awareness towards aboriginal land ownership. The appearance of that the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam made drew even more widespread attention to the Aboriginal land rights. This made everyday citizens aware of the issues facing Indigenous Australians. The petitioning work completed by Vincent Lingiari clearly drew in further media and government attention towards the issue.

Another success achieved from the work by Vincent Lingiari was the loss of the land lease for Vesteys. As evident in source 3, supporters of Lingiari promoted to 'boycott vesteys goods'. This was due to the poor treatment that was received by Aboriginal workers on the Wave Hill Station. In source 1, it is made clear that the Aboriginal stockmen and servants working on the station did not receive adequate wages and were forced to work and live in poor conditions. With the Gurindji people being given the lease to the land of Wattie Creek (source 1), the pastoral company Vesteys, who were incharge of the cattle station would have ultimately lost land. This is a success towards Aboriginal rights and freedoms as it affected the company who were poorly treating Aboriginal workers, therefore stopping the poor treatment of the workers and punishing the company for their cruel treatment.

A short term success achieved by Vincent Lingiari came in 1972, six years into the strike. In source 9, the Prime Minister Billy McMahon announced that funding would be made available to enable Aboriginal people to buy land. After this, the owner of Vesteys surrendered some of the Wave Hill Station land. These were both significant as they were a step closer to achieving land rights for Aboriginal people. The source makes apparent that these were a great victory for Lingiari it was a sign of the greater change set to appear for the Aboriginal people.

Long Term Achievements

A major long term achievement that was influenced by the work of Lingiari was the formation of the Northern Territory Land Rights Act. As clear in source 8, it was ten years after the Wave Hill 'Walk-Off' began that the land rights act was set in place in 1976. This act was a significant achievement as it gave Aboriginal Australians access to traditional lands in the Northern Territory as well as the power to negotiate over mining and development on those lands. This was the first time that it had been recognised that land belonged to the traditional owners, the Aboriginals. This was an important achievement, as in the future, the Aboriginal people would be better off as the Act would allow them to create their own planning. This would ultimately improve the economic and health status' of the Aboriginal people who would be able to control their use of land to their own advantage. From source 8, it is made clear that the Act formed in 1976 would benefit all other Indigenous people in the Northern Territory as they would be enabled to claim traditional land. In source 7, Act 1976 was able to enable Aboriginal people rightful access to their land, evident through an extract from the song, "know where they stand and stand in the law". The song celebrates the achievements and efforts of Vincent Lingiari in contributing to change in Aboriginal land rights. As such, Lingiari influenced Aboriginal land rights across Australia, and led to the introduction of legislation to allow access to traditional lands.

The work of Lingiari also influenced the freehold title in 1986, which granted the Gurindji people ownership of the whole former Wave Hill Station forever. Evident through source 9, it wasn't until twenty years after the Wave Hill strike that the freehold title was introduced. The introduction of this would lead to benefit future Aboriginal people in claiming back their traditional land. The freehold title would enable Indigenous Australians to seek their land back and be ensured that they would have ownership until the end of time. His contribution to Aboriginal land rights paved the way for ALL Aboriginals to have their traditional lands, as well as rights recognised.

In the legacy of Vincent Lingiari, The Lingiari Foundation was formed in 2001 in recognition of the contribution he made towards Aboriginal land claims. The foundation works towards the promotion of Indigenous rights, the development of Aboriginal leadership within communities as well as reconciliation. Source 11 indicates that the work of Lingiari is still alive years later. Lingiari evidently paved the way towards not only raising awareness of Aboriginal land rights, but also for other general issues in society affecting Indigenous Australians. The foundation promotes the rights of Indigenous people, as Vincent Lingiari did through petitioning and holding the Wave Hill strike.

Another achievement of Lingiari is evident through source 11, through The Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture. The lecture is held annually at Charles Darwin University and was established in 1996. The lectures are held to commemorate the Wave Hill 'walk off' as well as to discuss contemporary issues faced by Aboriginals. Without Vincent Lingiari's contributions to the land rights movement, the discussion of issues affecting Indigenous Australians would not occur, like at the lecture. The work of Lingiari influenced Aboriginal people to have a voice and discuss issues they are faced with in society.

Ultimately, Vincent Lingiari began the land rights movement for Aboriginal Australians and drew immense awareness to Aboriginal rights in general. In the quote by the Gurindji people; "He wasn't only fighting for the Gurindji people he was fighting for all Aboriginal people, for the way the white man treated us", it is made clear that the work completed by Lingiari was done so in order to help present and future Aboriginals. The land rights movement was set to benefit and create a pathway for Indigenous people to gain their rights and it was successful.


Source 3- Poster (below)
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Source 4- "Finally, to give back to you formally in Aboriginal and Australian law ownership of this land of your fathers. Vincent Lingiari, I solemnly hand to you these deeds as proof, in Australian law, that these lands belong to the Gurindji people and I put into your hands this piece of the earth itself as a sign that we restore them to you and your children forever." - Gough Whitlam- August 16th 1975
Source 5- Image (below)
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Source 7- Song (below)
Paul Kelly - From Little Things Big Things Grow
Source 10-

"He wasn't only fighting for the Gurindji people he was fighting for all Aboriginal people,
for the way the white man treated us. " - The Gurindji people