The Aboriginal Land Rights Movement

By Max Charlesworth | Go to book overview

Again, although not directly connected with land rights, the so-called 'Pindan' movement of the 1940s led to a number of stop work meetings by Aboriginal pastoral workers in WA and the Northern Territory. Set in train by a white political activist, Donald McLeod, the movement helped to raise political consciousness among some Aborigines. New Aboriginal religious movements, such as that centred upon Jinimin ( Jesus Christ) in the northern parts of the Western Desert, also prepared the climate for the land rights movement. Jinimin was supposed to have revealed himself to the Wonajagu people in 1963 and to have proclaimed that 'all the land from the beginning belonged to the Aborigines' and that in the future there would be 'no differences between Aborigines and other Australians--all should share equally in the land'. A condition of the restoration of their lands was that the Aborigines must 'keep going the old law'.

See Helmut Petri & Gisela Petri-Odermann , "Stability and change: present day historic aspects among Australian Aborigines", in R. M. Berndt (ed.), Australian Aboriginal anthropology, University of Western Australia, Nedlands, 1970, pp. 258-9


The 'Bark petition'

It is generally agreed, however, that the land rights movement began in 1962 with the action taken by the Aborigines at Yirrkala in Arnhem Land to protest against the Government's excision of 140 square miles of the Yirrkala Reserve to allow bauxite mining to be undertaken. The Yirrkala people formulated a petition to the Commonwealth Government, attached it to a bark painting, and sent it to Canberra. Here is the English text of the so-called 'Bark petition':

Parliament of Australia, Report from the select committee on grievances of Yirrkala Aborigines, Arnhem Land reserve ( R.L. Dean, chairman), Parl. Paper 311/ 1962-3, Canberra, 1963

To the honourable speaker and members of the house of representatives in parliament assembled.The Humble Petition of the Undersigned aboriginal people of Yirrkala, being members of the Balamumu, Narrkala, Gapiny and Miliwurrwurr people and Djapu, Mangalili, Madarrpa, Magarrwanalinirri, Gumaitj, Djamjarrpuynu, Marrakula, Galpu, Dhaluaya, Wangurri, Warramirri, Maymil, Rirritjinu tribes, respectfully sheweth--
1. That nearly 500 people of the above tribes are residents of the land excised from the Aboriginal Reserve in Arnhem Land.
2. That the procedures of the excision of this land and the fate of the people on it were never explained to them beforehand, and were kept secret from them.
3. That when Welfare Officers and Government officials came to inform them of decisions taken without them and against them, they did not undertake to convey to the Government in Canberra the views and feelings of the Yirrkala aboriginal people.

-20-

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The Aboriginal Land Rights Movement
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 1
  • Contents 3
  • Introduction 4
  • The Land Rights Movement 6
  • Who Owns Australia? the Legal Basis 12
  • Aboriginal and European Relations in Australia 16
  • A History of the Land Rights Movement 20
  • Traditional Owners 27
  • Land Rights: the Present Situation 41
  • Conclusion 45
  • Resource Materials 49
  • Select Bibliography 51
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