The Gurindji people farewell that "jangkarni marlaka"
“As a mark of respect, Gurindji people will now refer to this man as 'kulum Whitlam'. This great man helped us get better wages, health, education and housing, and most importantly, gave us our land back. Our people pay their respects to the family of kulum Whitlam,” Gurindji elder Michael George
The Gurindji people gathered yesterday to express their sorrow at the passing of that “jangkarni marlaka” (big important man), Gough Whitlam. Men, women and children sat together through the day sharing stories in his honour. At sunset the women and young girls performed a farewell wajarra ceremony at Handover Park in Daguragu.
In 1975 this was the site where Gough symbolically poured soil into the hands of Gurindji leader, Vincent Lingiari – an iconic moment in Australian land rights history, famously captured by photographer Merv Bishop.
Elder, Michael George, commented, “As a mark of respect, Gurindji people will now refer to this man as “kulum Whitlam”. “This great man helped us get better wages, health, education and housing, and most importantly, gave us our land back. Our people pay their respects to the family of kulum Whitlam.”
In 1966, Vincent Lingiari initiated a workers’ strike to protest against the poor conditions on Wave Hill Cattle Station and a claim for their traditional lands. The Gurindji campaign went on for nine years until Prime Minister Whitlam’s visit where he ceremonially proclaimed,
“Finally, to give back to you formally in Aboriginal and Australian law ownership of this land of your fathers. Vincent Lingiari, I solemnly hand to you these deeds as proof, in Australian law, that these lands belong to the Gurindji people and I put into your hands this piece of the earth itself as a sign that we restore them to you and your children forever.” Gough Whitlam, August 16th 1975
This event was a defining moment, which led to the passing of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, generating momentum for the broader Aboriginal land rights movement.
Cultural knowledge custodian, Theresa Yibwoin recalls, “I remember big mob dancing … big mob men, big mob women… big mob culture ceremony. I was young woman, dancing to welcome that big boss for country. Last night I danced farewell dance.”
The Karungkarni Art and Culture Aboriginal Corporation can be contacted by the following: