Brian Manning’s speech on the 45th Anniversary of the Gurindji walk off and Gurindji Freedom day.
I pay my respects to the heroes of the 1966 walk-off whose courage and faith in the Leadership and determination of Vincent Lingiari gave them the strength and will to challenge the authority of the Government and Welfare Department of the day who had taken over their Rights to live their lives with dignity and respect, in control of their destiny.
As I stand here today, I miss the familiar faces of those who have passed on and I think about the struggles they endured to claim their Heritage and the milestones of achievement we experienced along the way. Much is preserved in pictures that are on display today that go to make up a permanent memorial for the benefit of generations to come as part of their own knowledge of ‘Freedom Day’
I also pay respects to the hundreds of supporters of the Gurindji Strike who came here, from all walks of life to support the people with whatever skills they had to assist the community to get established and over time their contributions have not been acknowledged.
Initially camping in the dry bed of the Victoria River, before moving to higher ground on the Drovers Common, the people decided to move to Wattie Creek, now known as Daguragu where they would begin a new journey of Independence from the yolk of servitude to Vesteys.
The following year, as they petitioned the Government of the day to recognize their traditional ownership of ancestral lands, they set about constructing more permanent shelters and establishing their presence with the help of many volunteers from the Australian population at large from all walks of life including Trade Unions who from the outset had supported their claims for equal wages with other pastoral workers.
The Governments of the day were shamed Nationally and Worldwide as the living conditions of Aboriginal people became known which prompted them to address the desperate need for decent housing instead of humpies.
From the outset, 45 years ago, the Government were preoccupied with the white man’s myth of home ownership which perseveres to this day; housing constructed on Government owned land that could be mortgaged. The people were not consulted as to adaptable design that could accommodate Aboriginal lifestyle and were not sited at Daguragu where the people wanted the centre of activity incorporating school and store.
Instead, the Drovers Common became Kalkaringi where Gurindji people accepted work in brick making but declined to live in the houses .
In 1975, nine years after the walk-off, the Government of Gough Whitlam rewarded the Gurindji tenacity by handing back some of their Ancestral lands and ten years later, in 1985, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Clyde Holding presented Freehold Title in another landmark ceremony. I was present on both those occasions and clearly there was great optimism amongst the people that the future was looking bright.
Four years on, in 1989 I came here hoping to see a flourishing cattle enterprise developing. As I arrived I was surprised to see a helicopter wheeling overhead engaged in mustering cattle to destroy them in the Brucellosis- TB eradication programme. I was devastated to learn of the demise of the Murramulla Cattle Company.
The vision of the elders was slowly diminishing along with the prospects of self sufficiency and independence that work in their own cattle enterprise promised.
In my opinion, operation of their company as a viable commercial enterprise, employing accountants and white manager without recognising the need for Aboriginal hands on involvement in decision making and assistance from a benevolent, forward looking mentor, ensured the failure and returned the community to the Welfare trap when clearly, an operational loss for the cattle enterprise would be a cheaper option socially and financially in the long term.
Unfortunately, the future development of this Community has suffered the same fate as other remote Aboriginal Communities and become experiments in social engineering by successive Government Ministers.
The wheel has turned full circle, no longer subjugated by the Vestey’s Empire, but now at the mercy of the Federal Government imposed “Intervention” and a Northern Territory Government decision to withdraw funding from ‘outstations’ in favour of regional Hub development.
The dilemma facing the Gurindji now, on the 45th Anniversary of their Freedom from Vesty’s is how to keep their Freedom to make important decisions affecting their progress and way of life.
In the spirit of the old man’s legacy, you can do it.
One piece of gratuitous advice I would offer is to learn from the past.
The Walk-off succeeded in 1966 because of the Unity of the people to stay solidly together in the face of all sorts of inducements.
To decide on a course of action and remain united to achieve what you decided. That is the job ahead. You can do it
I will conclude by reading a poem from an old friend and supporter,John Tomlinson
Government and Opposition
Wild horses can’t drag me,
and you’ll never tempt me
to get into line and pretend
you have the truth – the answer:
I’ll resist you to the very end.
I’ll not praise your lying jugglers
presenting half lies and distorted images as fact.
You’ll not hear me rabbiting on about people smugglers.
I am prepared to wait until the final act.
You will not catch me wearing budgie smugglers.
When leaky boats arrive I see asylum seekers
brought here by poor Indonesian fishermen.
I’m not interested in your sticky beakers
or the really amoral who’d return them to Malaysia
or Manus or Nauru or to wherever they fled:
such people care little if they end up dead.
You’ll not hear me musing on “the simple dignity that work brings”
nor the need to cut the number of pensioners with a disability
because they are doing what they can to the best of their ability.
I’m aware of the struggle poor people face: of the outrageous slings:
of the uphill climb just to get their hungry children fed,
coping with the daily grind, finding the shelter of a nice warm bed.
So to the Government and Opposition I want to put the proposition
that “It’s Time” to find a way to embrace all who live in our land:
to share and care and do what’s fair, giving all a helping hand,
to come to a just resolution of Indigenous people’s claim,
to be generous to the first peoples and end the old blame game,
to close immigration detention centres and lock the door,
to end the gross disparities between rich and poor,
to end poverty and malnutrition and what’s more,
to help end world starvation and stop every war,
to comfort the afflicted and bandage every sore.