Daguragu station land claim

November 1986

Vol2 No1 November 1986 Claim lodged: 1979 Title dated: 29 May, 1986 Area of claim: 3279 sq km Number of claimants: 170 The courageous actions of the Gurindji, and their demand for Land Rights took the realities of decades of oppression and colonial injustice into the sitting rooms of urban Australia.

Many heard and saw on television for the first time, Aboriginal people telling the story of their exploitation and oppression by the pastoral industry.

When the stockmen of Wave Hill Station "walked off" the job in 1966, and refused to be bribed back until they got justice through Land Rights, even politicians were forced to listen.

The cruel indifference of generations of non-Aboriginal Australians was shattered. Aboriginal activists from around Australia kept the momentum going, erecting an Aboriginal tent embassy on the lawns outside the National Parliament.

The Australian Labor Party - under the leadership of Gough Whitlam - and the trade union movement, responded and Land Rights became a central part of the Whitlam drive to wrest Government from the Liberal/Country Coalition for the first time in twenty three years.

In 1974 Prime Minister Whitlam, handed the Gurindji as lease to part of the vast Wave Hill property operated by Vesteys - a British-based multinational company. As Gurindji elder, Vincent Lingiari said at the time: "They took our country away from us, now they have brought it back to us ceremonially."

It was a great and symbolic day for Aboriginal people and their supporters around Australia, but to the Gurindji it was only a vital first step.

This was echoed by Gough Whitlam when he said that the lease ceremony was "a token that these lands will be in the possession of you and your children for ever." The Gurindji wanted perpetual title, under the foreshadowed Land Rights Act.

They feared that without that, Governments could take away their lease. This fear was realised in 1979 when the NT Government gave notice that they surrender the title. In May 1986, twenty years after the walk-off, the final demand for Justice by the Gurindji was met, and the Hawke Labor government's Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Clyde Holding at last handed over the "inalienable" Aboriginal freehold title deeds to the Gurindji.

But sadly this final achievement, was marred by another threat to the desire of the Gurindji for control over their lives and land. The Gurindji are deeply worried about the presence of the Northern Territory Government-sponsored town of Kalkaringi which is in the middle of their lease, and they pleaded with Clyde Holding to help them.

They fear they will become fringe dwellers on their own land. Most of all, they want the school moved into their community, onto Aboriginal land. Their pleas fell on deaf ears.

The Minister was more concerned about performing for the government video cameras and the other media he had invited from Canberra and Darwin. And there were other anxieties. The Gurindji were aware that at the time of the handover, the Hawke Government was moving to put an end to provision in the Land Rights Act for the conversion of pastoral leases to Aboriginal inalienable freehold title.

And worse, were plans being considered to allow the Northern Territory Government to repeat the outrage of Kalkaringi, by giving it the power to acquire portions of Aboriginal land for any 'public' purpose.

Fortunately these damaging changes to the Act have been deleted but at the time of the Gurindji title hand-over Mr Holding was adamantly defending them.