This clip shows singer–songwriters Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly discussing the background to their song 'From little things big things grow’, which tells the story of the Wave Hill walkout. The clip includes footage of Kelly performing the song, black-and-white television footage of the striking stockmen and their families, and news footage of an interview with Lord Vestey, the British owner of Wave Hill station in the Northern Territory. Vestey implies that any part of Australia could be subject to land rights claims. The clip ends with a shot of Vincent Lingiari, who says: 'And I said, “Well, what was before Lord Vestey born and I born?”’.
Educational value points
- The clip highlights the Wave Hill walkout, a strike by Indigenous stockmen and domestic workers at the world’s biggest cattle station, Wave Hill in the NT, which resulted in the first successful land rights claim in Australia. In 1966 Vincent Lingiari led 200 Gurindji workers and their families off Wave Hill station, demanding the same pay and conditions as non-Indigenous workers. At Wave Hill, Gurindji people worked for basic rations such as beef, bread, salt and tobacco and received little or no money. They were housed in corrugated-iron huts with no power or running water. Wave Hill was on Gurindji land.
- At the time, Wave Hill station was owned by Vesteys, an English pastoral conglomerate headed by Lord Vestey. Like many in the NT cattle industry, Vestey built an empire while exploiting the company’s Indigenous workforce. These workers had criticised conditions on Wave Hill for many years.
- Kev Carmody explains that the Wave Hill walkout was not just about wages and conditions but about ownership of traditional land. The Gurindji believed that the return of some of their land, over which they had never relinquished sovereignty, was a key to self-determination. They wanted to run their own community free from government control of their 'welfare’ and from exploitation by Vesteys.
- The Wave Hill walkout was the longest strike in Australia’s history. In 1967 the Gurindji’s petition to the governor-general for 1,295 sq km of their land was rejected. The Gurindji held out for eight years until they were granted land rights. They initially set up camp at the Victoria River, but in 1967 moved to Daguragu (Wattie Creek), a significant Dreaming site, and established a settlement there. In 1975 the then Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam handed 3,236 sq km of Wave Hill station back to the Gurindji people, and ceremonially poured earth into Vincent Lingiari’s hands.
- The phrase 'From little things big things grow’ describes how the Gurindji people’s actions helped to create an environment for change. The nationwide interest in the Wave Hill walkout resulted in many non-Indigenous Australians becoming aware for the first time of the conditions in which many Indigenous people live.
- Lord Vestey suggested that if the Gurindji were granted land rights, any part of Australia could be subject to land claims. Similar objections were raised when the High Court overturned 'terra nullius’ in the Mabo judgement in 1992, opening the way for Indigenous Australians to have native title of their lands recognised, and later in 1996 when the Wik judgement recognised that native title could coexist with pastoral leases. Subsequent Australian Government legislation has made it more difficult to make claims on pastoral leases.
- Indigenous musician Kev Carmody collaborated with singer–songwriter Paul Kelly to create 'From little things big things grow’. Carmody and Kelly are among Australia’s most respected songwriters. This song is a powerful example of their music, and its popularity has meant that many Australians are now familiar with the story of the Wave Hill walkout.
This clip starts approximately 24 minutes into the documentary.
Paul Kelly is sitting in a studio playing the harmonica and the guitar. He is singing ‘Gather round people let me tell you’re a story, An eight year long story of power and pride, British Lord Vestey and Vincent Lingiarri, Were opposite men on opposite sides…’, From Little Things, Big Things Come by Paul Kelly and Kevin Carmody. We see footage of Aboriginal men and women working on the property. The men and women are dancing, playing music and singing.
Narrator These Aboriginal stockmen are on strike. They walked off the job over a month ago. Their wives, children and relatives went with them. This is the Wave Hill mob. Wave Hill is the Territory’s biggest cattle station – 5,186 square miles. In fact, the biggest in the world.
Paul Kelly and Kevin Carmody are being interviewed in the studio.
Kevin Carmody It was in 1966 that Gurindji stockmen walked off from Wave Hill station and camped in the riverbed at Wattie Creek. The cattle station was leased from the Federal Government by British Lord Vestey who ran a multi-national bloody meat empire. But it wasn’t just a strike about wages and conditions, the Gurindji mob wanted ownership of their traditional land. Led by Vincent Lingiari, they stayed on strike for 8 years and ended up gaining support for their cause from all around Australia.
Paul Kelly Over the years I’d heard the story, I’d heard bits and pieces of it and I kind of had a vague piecing together of the story so I started talking to Kev about it. I knew there had been this walkout at a place called Wave Hill in the Northern Territory and I knew it had been an important event, you know that it started off a whole lot of things with the Land Rights movement.
Kevin It sort of got bigger and bigger. They were trying to paint it initially as a, you know, a thing for better wages and conditions and there was a Communist-inspired black uprising ah, but it wasn’t that at all. They were after the land and of course that was a thing that was instilled into us as kids the importance of the land to us people – like no land, no people.
Interview with Lord Vestey.
Lord Vestey I think that Australians all over Australia have got to decide whether they think it’s right that Macquarie Street, for example, should be owned by the Aborigines. It goes right back…
Interviewer But the Aborigines aren’t claiming Macquarie Street.
Lord Vestey No, but ah, because there aren’t any Aboriginals here. Are there?
Interview with Vincent Lingiari.
Vincent Lingiari And I said ‘ah, well, what was before the Vestey born and I born?’