A milestone for the movement, on 23 August 1966 Gurindji man, Vincent Lingiari marched off the Wave Hill Cattle Station in Kalkaringi, NT accompanied by 200 stockmen, domestic workers and their families.
This was the event that prompted a seven-year dispute between the Gurindji people and British aristocrat, Lord Samuel Vestey.
The fight officially ended in 1975 when former Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam poured soil into Mr Lingiari’s hands – a symbol of the return of Wave Hill Station to the Gurindji people.
This was a moment that no Australian will forget and a moment that proved that from little things, big things grow.
Fifty-three years on and the Freedom Day Festival hosted by Northern Territory towns, Kalkaringi and Daguragu, celebrate the legacy of the Wave Hill Walk Off.
Vincent Lingiari’s grandson, Sonny Lingiari, was part of the iconic celebration.
“It was a beautiful weekend, I felt so happy seeing new faces, every year it’s getting bigger,” Mr Lingiari said.
Filled with pride, Mr Lingiari reminisces on life with his grandfather.
“We were poor, we all lived together. There were a lot of kids to feed, we didn’t have much money, but we pushed on,” Mr Lingiari said.
“He told me so many stories, about how they were treated, about no wages. How they were taken for granted.”
Although, a monumental moment in history, Mr Lingiari said his family never really understood the true impact of what happened that day.
“We had no idea it was going to be so big, even I didn’t. We just thought nothing of it, [only] a few years later when I was older did I realise after reading all the headlines what it meant.”
A key feature of the festival was the Freedom Day March. Hundreds of people from all walks of life came together to march to the banks of the Victoria River – the very spot the Gurindji people sat in protest.
Gurindji Traditional Owner Rob Roy said the event was something special.
“Fifty-three years later, here we are at it again. We are keeping up the legacy of Mr Lingiari and the other 200 men and women who walked off with him,” Mr Roy said.
“There was mixed emotion – we are sad because of what our old people went through, but we are proud of their legacy.”
Although celebrating an epic milestone, Mr Roy says it can’t be forgotten that the fight isn’t over just yet.
“They did this as a gift to us, the Gurindji people, but we are still struggling.”
“We need to fight, push for our voice – to have voice in the Constitution, to have our strong voice in Parliament.”
“We need to talk more about constitutional recognition, we have to talk about education. We must know the Western world properly, our law never changes, this one does – every four years. We must know between the two parties, what is best for us.”
“The old people who walked off, they started a movement that we are still fighting.”
“These are the stories we pass to the next generation – we see change because we pushed for change. These are the stories that I will only be too proud to tell my grandkids.”
Both Mr Lingiari and Mr Roy invite all people to come celebrate the Freedom Day Festival in 2020.
“Next year, when we celebrate again, please come. Come from across the country and share your culture with us and let us share it with you,” Mr Roy said.
“Gurindji country is deadly – the people here, they are so humble. We want to be out there, meet people, share our country and culture.”
“The festival is special – it’s about coming together uniting as one. Coming together with one voice – it’s powerful and strong.”
For more information, visit: http://www.freedomday.com.au/
By Rachael Knowles