13 March 2018 - THE WAVE HILL 'WALK-OFF'


G'day folks,

Here is a brief snippet concerning a major revolt by Aborigines in Australia. This very action is mentioned in one of my books - A DROVER'S BLANKET. 

Background to the 'walk-off'

Wave Hill Station is located approximately 600 kilometres south of Darwin in the Northern Territory. Vesteys, a British pastoral company which ran the cattle station, employed local Aboriginal people, mostly Gurindji. Working and living conditions for Aboriginal people were very poor. The wages of Aboriginal workers generally were controlled and not equal to those paid to non-Aboriginal employees.

An attempt to introduce equal wages for Aboriginal workers was made in 1965, but in March 1966 the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission decided to delay until 1968 the payment of award wages to male Aboriginal workers in the cattle industry.

In August 1966, Vincent Lingiari, a Gurindji spokesman, led a walk-off of 200 Aboriginal stockmen, house servants, and their families from Wave Hill as a protest against the work and pay conditions. The strike was part of a widespread campaign begun by workers on Brunette Downs Station and supported by non-Indigenous people, including unionists and the author Frank Hardy.

The protesters camped at Wattie Creek (Daguragu) and sought the return of some of their traditional lands to develop a cattle station. They petitioned the Governor-General in 1967, and leaders toured Australia to raise awareness about their cause. In 1972, Prime Minister Whitlam announced that funds would be made available for the purchase of properties that were not on reserves, and Lord Vestey offered to surrender 90 square kilometres to the Gurindji people.

Daguragu was acquired by the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission and, on 16 August 1975 at Daguragu, Prime Minister Whitlam transferred leasehold title to the Gurindji, symbolically handing soil to Vincent Lingiari.

The Gurindji campaign was an important influence on the events leading to passing the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (Northern Territory) 1976.

The Central Land Council applied on behalf of the Gurindji under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 for traditional land comprising the Daguragu pastoral lease and some adjacent un-alienated Crown land. In 1981 the Aboriginal Land Commissioner recommended that the land claim should be granted. The claim relating to the South West Corner was granted in 1985.

Clancy's comment: Go, Vincent Lingiari! Love ya work!

Now, here is a snippet from my book, A Drover's Blanket, where the main character, Smokey Danson, addresses the Aborigines at Wattie Creek. He's the only white man present, but his best mate, Magic Billie, an Aboriginal drover he met in 1910, is there also. 

I choked up every time I revised this section of my manuscript. It's powerful stuff.

Voice of BBC commentator:

‘Here we are. We’re at Wattie Creek in Australia’s Northern Territory, a place the Aborigines call Daguragu. It’s a sacred site for the Ngarinman, Bilinara, Warlpiri, Mudbara and Gurindji people. Something unusual is happening today. We’ve heard a whisper that Aboriginal drovers and their families are about to be addressed by a man who’s supported their seven-year battle with the owners of Wave Hill Station. He’s a white man, a station owner from New South Wales … The first white man to step foot in Wattie Creek since the strike began.’ 

‘Vincent Lingiari, the leader of the walk off, is about to address the stockmen, house servants and their families. Don’t forget. This dispute is not only about work and living conditions. The blacks also want the return of their traditional land. Now, we’ll hear from the speaker. Here is Vincent Lingiari.’


‘I want ya listen to man come long way to support us. He white fella … But he good fella. His name Smokey.’

‘Thanks, Vince. G’day, folks. My name’s Smokey Danson, but most folks call me 'Gun' Danson. I own a station in New South Wales and have come here in friendship. Well, I don’t really own my station … You do, but my family has been taking care of it since 1848. It’s a beautiful piece of dirt we call Wiralee Station.’ 

Smokey stopped speaking when a few people clapped. He offered the crowd a wry smile and slowly raised his hand. ‘Folks, I want to introduce you to my brother, Billie. I call him Magic Billie because he taught me lots about your magic land. He taught me how to find water in a drought, to respect the animals and birds, and to love the earth.’ Magic Billie stepped forward and stood next to Smokey. When he smiled, his white teeth shone brightly against his dark skin. Smokey continued to speak. ‘I met this bloke when I was taking our mob up the long paddock in 1910 during the big drought. He was a skinny bloke then … And he’s a skinny bloke now,’ said Smokey with a cheeky grin. The crowd laughed at his comment.
Smokey draped an arm over Billie’s shoulder, grinned and continued. ‘Billie and I’ve been best friends since the day we met. I returned to Wiralee Station in 1911 when the drought broke. Since then, Billie and his family have lived on Wiralee. They will always live there. It’s their home as much as it’s mine. Folks, I signed a legal document many years ago, and you might like to hear what it says.’ Smokey pulled a sheet of paper from his coat pocket and read from it. ‘It says, “Any descendant of my adopted brother, Billie Nittinunjah Danson, known as Magic Billie, will be permitted to live on Wiralee Station for as long as they wish.”’ Smokey folded the document, scanned the crowd and continued to speak. ‘Yeah, we’ve been brothers for 56 years. He’s black and I’m white, but so what? Brothers are brothers … And mates are mates.’ 

Smokey smiled at the crowd and politely raised his hand. ‘You might ask one question: what does this white fella know? Well. I know that I’m lucky to be a farmer on land owned by you folks, and I’m glad that I met this bloke standing beside me. He’s my best mate. When my beautiful wife, Molly, and my daughter, Jane, were tragically killed in 1922, this bloke stepped up and took my place. He and his family ran 100 square miles of Wiralee Station while I grieved for my wife and daughter. Billie would sit next to me every night and tell me what was happening on Wiralee. He and his beautiful wife, Edna, took care of my son, Clifford, and treated him as if he were their own son. Folks, you probably didn’t know this, but we’ve always spoken in Billie’s tribal language. Yeah, I learnt it. Why not, eh? My point is very simple. I knew Wiralee was in good hands … The hands of a good mate, a brother, a wonderful stockman and a traditional owner.  

 Let me say this. I’ve heard about the massacre in Coniston in 1928, and other terrible things that have happened to you. I also know that some white farmers have used you as cheap labour. They’ve made you work for little or no money and offered you poor food, provided appalling housing and made you live in rough humpies with no lighting, running water or cooking facilities. I know that. Brothers and sisters, I’ve come here today to support you, but I ask one thing. Be passive, not violent. Get your tribes together and tell the rest of this nation that you’ve had enough. I promise you one thing. I, Smokey ‘Gun’ Danson, will be telling everyone of your plight, and I’ll support you in whatever way I can. I might be a simple drover, but I know good people when I meet them. I’m Gun Danson, and I’m proud to be here … Thanks for listening.’    

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