Gurindji freedom banners on display at CDU Art Gallery
Charles Darwin University (CDU) Art Gallery is proud to present the Gurindji freedom banners from 20 April until 15 July 2023, which tell the story of the historic Wave Hill Walk-off in 1966.
The exhibition will be opened today by Gurindji/Malngin artist and cultural leader, Leah Leaman Namitja.
CDU Art Gallery is working in partnership with Karungkarni Art and Culture on the project.
The 10 iconic banners tell the Gurindji account of when Vincent Jurlama Lingiari AM went on strike with Gurindji, Ngarinyman, Mudburra, Bilinarra and Warlpiri workers from Wave Hill Station, located in the Victoria River District on the northern edge of the Tanami Desert.
“As Gurindji people we remain proud of our elders and their actions. We remember their actions and how they changed the history of race relations in Australia,” said Ms Namitja.
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 battle, this action eventuated in some of the Gurindji’s homelands being returned.
The symbolic handback of lands to the Gurindji - in the form of a pastoral lease - 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 claim to their pastoral lease and traditional lands were recognised with freehold title being granted under the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act 1976.
“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,” said Penny Smith, Manager of Karungkarni Art.
“This banner project involved approximately 35 Gurindji people, many of whom were participants in the Wave Hill Walk-off in 1996. The title, Gurindji freedom banners: Mumkurla-nginyi-ma parrngalinyparla - From the darkness into the light reflects the importance of this historical event for the Gurindji,” she said.
Created with applique textiles and hand painted cloth, the banners were part of a community cultural development project funded by the Australia Council for the Arts in 2000.
The banners were originally launched at Gurindji Freedom Day on 18 August 2000 at Wattie Creek and unveiled at the 5th Annual Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture by the Right Honourable Malcolm Fraser at Charles Darwin University Amphitheatre on 24 August 2000.
CDU Art Gallery Curator Dr Joanna Barrkman said the University has fostered the Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture series since 1996.
“In August 2022, the lecture was delivered ‘on-country’ for the first time by unionist, Thomas Mayo, at the Gurindji Freedom Day Festival. This led to enthusiasm about displaying the banners again,” Dr Barrkman said.
Karungkarni Art and Culture Aboriginal Art Corporation are custodians of the banners for the Gurindji people but have an agreement with Charles Darwin University Art Collection to care for the banners temporarily.