Next week, Australians will look back at one the most significant moments in the struggle for Indigenous rights. August 23 marks the 50th anniversary of the Wave Hill walk-off, when Vincent Lingiari led a group of 200 Aboriginal workers and their families off a Northern Territory pastoral station in protest against their exploitative pay and working conditions.
Labor’s spokesperson for human services, Linda Burney, who at the election became the first Indigenous woman to win a seat in the lower house, tells Michelle Grattan the events of Wave Hill were incredibly important and continue to be.
Burney says the actions of Lingiari and the Gurindji people at Wave Hill were “heroic” and should be “fundamental to everyone’s education in Australia through the school curriculum”.
Burney also traces the modern land rights movement to the walk-off.
“The Gurindji with the support of unions and many others – non-Aboriginal people – came to the south and presented their case about living conditions, about rights to country, rights to culture, and the south and the north came together and over a long period of time eventually delivered land rights to the Gurindji,” she says.
Constitutional recognition of First Australians
Acknowledging roadblocks in the way of constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians, Burney says she doesn’t want to “entertain the notion that it can’t happen”.
“I am very disappointed that the Referendum Council has now taken the view that they can’t deliver a report until mid next year.”
“I am still very optimistic that there will be a referendum. It will not be for the 50th anniversary [of the 1967 referendum]. That symbolism is lost but I do think there is still an appetite for a referendum at some point. I am sick of this being kicked down the road.”
“If the Referendum Council says ‘mid-next year’ then let’s for heaven’s sake set a definite date so we know what we’re working towards and get a set of words, a question, so we know what we’re going to be talking about,” she says.