Bill's Speeches

50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE WAVE HILL WALK-OFF CEREMONY - LIPANGANGKU - FRIDAY, 19 AUGUST 2016

50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE WAVE HILL WALK-OFF CEREMONY


LIPANGANGKU RIVER AREA

FRIDAY, 19 AUGUST 2016

 

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We gather here to acknowledge and celebrate the traditional owners of this land.

And pay our respects to elders, past and present for their leadership and their courage.

This historic ground, is, was and always will be, Aboriginal land.

Today, we celebrate a long struggle and a famous victory.

In some ways it is hard to imagine the idea that people were getting 15 per cent of the wages of other people because of the colour of their skin. 

Or that there was no compensation for injuries, years of surviving on an unchanging ration of salt meat, dry bread, tea and sugar.

 

And sometimes it's easy to be strong when there's many, but it takes a particular kind of courage to quietly pack up what belongings you have and just walk off where you work. 

And there were no cameras there, there was no internet, there was no social media; this was just people who said, we have had enough.  We will not do something for nothing again.  We will stand up. 

And it is a marvellous story. 

And when you think about it though, it was an act of defiance but it  was not an act of violence. 

It was an act of strength but it was not unreasonable. 

I cannot imagine or understand the strength of persisting for seven years, for seven years. 

We live in an age where we all want answers straight away and we need it all now. 

Seven years to fight. 

It is amazing. Nine years until we saw that amazing scene of the late great Gough Whitlam pouring those modest specks of red soil through Vincent Lingiari’s hands.

That amazing scene. 

And when you think about it what were they fighting? 

Power, privilege, money, racism. 

It makes us all better Australians because of this. 

And down the road from Darwin, came the thinkers and agitators and artists and journalists, people with songs and food and questions and cameras. 

And it also makes me proud of the work of the trade unions who came down that road and provided that assistance. 

Thank you very much. 

This whole chapter should be better known in Australian history. 

Where we say and it was said, at least the promise was made that fair day’s wage should be colour blind. And it is still not in this country. 

Let us tell the truth, people want to hear the truth. 

Labor will sit down, with my very good team, because it is long overdue to have a discussion about equal wages in this country. 

That's the very least we can do. 

What amazes me is that when now look back 50 years, you see that what was happening here wasn't just about wages. 

It was a fight for the future their children, for language, for culture, for land rights, for all Aboriginal people.   

And in fighting for land rights what this remarkable group of people did was they were fighting for the character of the Australian people. For all of us. 

When Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people do well in this country, then we all do well in this country. Nothing less is acceptable. 

I want to finish on what Vincent said when Gough Whitlam came here. 

He responded with that most generous, most Australian phrase. A phrase we all like to think of ourselves.

Vincent said: 

“We are all mates now”.

After all of the treatment, all of the unfairness, what strength and character is it to simply accept and say we are all mates now. 

I think looking around here and talking people today and listening to land councils and leaders, we need to recognise while some things have change in 50 years, other things have not. 

 

And we cannot deceive ourselves. 

 

What I understand when I hear Vincent's words that we are all mates now, is you can't be mates, you cannot be fair dinkum about being mates, unless you have true equality. 

 

I promise that being here today with all of you redoubles my commitment that until we have true equality, we're not being the mates that Vincent Lingiari offered us. 

 

Thank you for all being here today.


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