16th Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture (2016)

Professor Larissa BehrendtPresented by Professor Larissa Behrendt.

Fifty years ago, Vincent Lingiari led an Indigenous walk off from the Wave Hill station that has become one of the most important political moments in contemporary Australian history. It was a protest movement that did not just have deep symbolic value but also had a profound intellectual base.

It demanded equality of treatment through the payment of prope wages while also reinforcing the Gurindji traditional connection and custodianship of country. It also asserted Indigenous agency and self-determination. These notions of access to equal opportunity and rights within Australian society and the claims of Indigenous identity and nationhood continue to shape the contemporary political aspirations of Indigenous people.

There are many issues that continue to highlight the importance of the claims Lingiari and his people were making. There are the socio-economic gaps highlighted in the ‘Close the Gap’ figures but there are also increased rate of child removal from Indigenous parents and deaths in custody that highlight systemic discrimination and disadvantage.

But there are also roadmaps forward that Lingiari’s political vision laid out that are equally relevant today. At its heart is the understanding that Indigenous people have to be playing the central role in the direction their future takes. This self-determination and agency will lead to the best outcomes for Indigenous communities.

Importantly, Lingiari’s vision for the future saw not just the importance of socio-economic equality, it also recognised the importance of strong Indigenous communities and cultures.

Today, when policy makers will often claim that Indigenous cultures are part of the problem, it is important to reflect on the role that Lingiari saw them play as part of the solution. In particular, Indigenous knowledges have a critical role to play in innovation, sustainability and resilience. Acknowledging and respecting this wisdom will not just offer important opportunities moving forward but should reinforce the central place of Indigenous people in Australian society.

Lecture resources