CDU Art Gallery is proud to present the Gurindji freedom banners in partnership with Karungkarni Arts and Culture from 20 April until 15 July 2023. The banners retell the story of the historic Wave Hill Walk-off in 1966. The 10 iconic banners on display tell the Gurindji account of the ‘walk-off’, which was led by Vincent Jurlama Lingiari AM with Gurindji, Ngarinyman, Mudburra, Bilinara and Walpiri workers from Wave Hill Station, located in the Victoria River District on the northern edge of the Tanami Desert. This strike was a response to the unfair working and living conditions for Aboriginal people under the station’s management; Vestey’s Group. Aboriginal workers, at Old Wave Hill Station, were paid less than a quarter of the minimum wage and sometimes only received rations.
The Gurindji strike for fair pay and better working conditions soon became a demand for the return of traditional lands. In 1974, after an eight year-long battle, this action eventuated in some of the Gurindji’s homelands being returned. The symbolic handback of lands to the Gurindji by Australia Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam in 1975, and the legislation of the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act 1976 followed. Ultimately, in 1986 , the Gurindji’s claims to their pastoral lease and traditional lands were recognised with freehold title being granted under the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act 1976.
As Penny Smith, Manager, Karungkarni Arts relates, ‘The Gurindji freedom banners project was initiated by the Gurindji in 2000, to tell their version of the historic struggle to regain their traditional lands. This banner project involved approximately 35 Gurindji people, many of whom had been participants in the Wave Hill Walk-off in 1996. The title, Gurindji freedom banners reflects the importance of this historical event for the Gurindji.’
The applique and hand-painted banners were made as part of a community, cultural development project funded by the Australia Council for the Arts, in 2000. Dr Joanna Barrkman, Curator, CDU Art Gallery explains, ‘The University has fostered the Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture series since 1996, with the first lecture being delivered ‘on-country’ by unionist, Thomas Mayor in 2022. The University Art Collection has been temporarily looking after the banners, which is fortunate considering the recent floods in Kalkarindji and Daguragu. There was enthusiasm about displaying the banners again following the 2022 Gurindji Freedom Day Festival in Kalkarindji.’
The display includes the 10 banners together with artworks from artists at Karungkarni Arts & Culture.
The banners were originally launched at Gurindji Freedom Day, 18 August 2000 at Wattie Creek and unveiled at the 5th Annual Lingiari Memorial lecture by the Right Honourable Malcolm Fraser, at Charles Darwin University Amphitheatre on 24 August, 2000. CDU Art Collection currently cares for the banners, which belong to Karungkarni Aboriginal Art Corporation.
For education resources relating to the Wave Hill Walk-off please visit the National Museum of Australia https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/wave-hill-walk-off
Image (banner): Kalu Yani - Walk-off fenceline banner, 2000. Image (above): Daguragu banner, 2000.