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Why did the Gurindji people take a stand?

Equal pay, equal rights and more

Click to see the This Day Tonight program from 1968 [1]

Click to see the This Day Tonight program from 1968

Across the Northern Territory in the early 1960s, Aboriginal stockmen were starting to talk about getting equal pay. The men worked on isolated stations, but came together in Darwin at times. At a meeting in Darwin, Aboriginal people set up the Northern Territory Council for Aboriginal Rights and drew up a list of problems they wanted fixed: equal pay for Aboriginal workers, government welfare payments made directly to Aboriginal people, better housing and better food, protection of women by law, laws against racist slurs and, finally, Aboriginal control of reserves (Hardy, The Unlucky Australians, pp. 51–53).

As a union organiser and president of the Northern Territory Council for Aboriginal Rights, Dexter Daniels travelled around stations talking about the issues. There was a lot of interest amongst Aboriginal people because the situation was so bad. Wages were unfair or unpaid, welfare payments were often paid to the station bosses, housing was barely more than sticks and corrugated iron sheets, the food was appalling, Aboriginal people were badly treated, particularly the women.

Not long after the stopwork, the Gurindji explained in a petition to the governor-general that return of their land was also very important to them.

Our people have lived here from time immemorial, our culture, myths, dreaming and sacred places have evolved in this land.’
Gurindji petition to Governor-General Lord Casey, 1966 [2]

‘We were treated just like dogs. We were lucky to get paid the 50 quid a month we were due, and we lived in tin humpies you had to crawl in and out of on your knees. There was no running water. The food was bad – just flour, tea, sugar and bits of beef, like the head or feet of a bullock. The Vesteys mob were hard men. They didn’t care about blackfellas.’
Billy Bunter Jampijinpa, Gurindji man, Wave Hill

Next: What is the legacy of the stopwork in 1966? [3]

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