What is the legacy of the 1966 stopwork?

The Gurindji took a big risk moving to Wattie Creek. There was no housing or sanitation there and they had no money or food. The stopwork meant they had no income from cattle work. But they were ready to take a stand.

Gurindji strikers at Lipanangku (August 1966, Brian Manning)

Their actions sparked a great discussion among the whole Australian community about Aboriginal rights. Television programs such as ABC TV’s This Day Tonight showed a situation that had been hidden from most Australians.

Although the petition for land rights to the governor-general was denied, its presentation meant that many questions about the situation at Wave Hill and about Aboriginal people in general were raised in Parliament.

The determination of the Gurindji to have a greater say in their lives and to live in freedom on their traditional lands grew stronger. Gradually, they built shelters and toilets at Daguragu. They received cash and practical support from supporters in the south and in Darwin. They bought a truck – an important step for an isolated community.

The Gurindji’s efforts contributed to the overwhelming support for the 1967 referendum to recognise Aboriginal people.

But the wheels of change turned slowly, and it wasn’t until 1972, when the Whitlam Labor government was elected, that Canberra looked seriously at Aboriginal land rights. Whitlam set up an Aboriginal Land Rights Commission to investigate land rights in the Northern Territory.

The findings of the commission (also known as the Woodward Royal Commission) were landmarks in that they recognised Aboriginal land rights and recommended many important changes, including protection of sacred sites and the establishment of Aboriginal land councils to administer Aboriginal lands.

The Whitlam Labor government supported the Royal Commission’s findings and, in August 1975, in a gesture of reconciliation, handed over the allotted land to the Gurindji people.

It was the Fraser Coalition government that passed the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. This Act allowed Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory to make claims on land to which they could prove traditional ties.

Today, the Gurindji are proud of the communities that they have built on their traditional lands.

The Kawarla book team: (L-R) Felicity Meakins (linguist), Penny Smith (photographer), Violet Wadrill, Biddy and Jimmy Wavehill (Gurindji language experts, painters and coolamon makers)

‘Today, people at Daguragu and Kalkaringi mostly speak Gurindji, Kriol and English. Everyone inherits a skin-name at birth. There are four for boys, like Janama and Japarta, and four for girls, like Nangala and Nawurla. We keep our skin names for life and they determine how all Ngumpit relate to each other.
Many of us are successful practising artists, using our art to tell stories about our land, Dreamings and history. The Karungkarni Art and Cultural Centre is a focal point for our community. Local ceremonial life is secret-sacred, though people here say that senior men and women will lead the young in a special wajarra [public] dance at the 50th Freedom Day.’

Relevant Resources

Equality, Rights
Wave Hill sources and resources
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Wave Hill walk-off – 50 years ago
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Where is Wave Hill and Wattie Creek?
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