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Australian art


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art

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Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory

printed 1984


Mervyn Bishop


1945 -


The political struggle that led to the affirmation of native title enshrined in the Mabo and Wik decisions is the subject of this momentous photograph. Appropriately, it was taken by Mervyn Bishop, Australia's first Aboriginal press photographer and a noted recorder of customary and contemporary life in Aboriginal communities. Bishop caught the human as well as the historical significance of the transferral of soil from the hand of a white prime minister, the reformist Gough Whitlam, to that of a Gurindji elder, Vincent Lingiari. Both men seem awed, even humbled, by the power of their own gesture, enacted against a brilliant blue Australian sky. Land at the Vestey-operated Wave Hill Station was handed back to its traditional owners, the Gurindji people, in August 1975, after decades of servitude and a nine-year walkout. The centrality of the concept of land, or more properly of place, in Aboriginal culture and consciousness is here given expression in a modern medium.

AGNSW Handbook, 1999.


Place where the work was made

Wave Hill Station Northern Territory Australia


printed 1984

Media category


Materials used

type R photograph


76.0 x 50.7 cm image / sheet

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated


Purchased 1994


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Mervyn Bishop

Artist profile

Works in the collection


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

  • Another Country, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 04 Jul 1999–02 Apr 2000

Referenced in 5 publications


Georgina Cole, Look, 'Australian photographs past and present: What they say about the people and the country', pg. 26-30, Sydney, Mar 2015, 28 (colour illus.), 29.

Margo Neale, Yiribana: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collection, Sydney, 1994, 120, 121 (colour illus.), 136, 139. plate no. 59

Hetti Perkins, Art + soul: a journey into the world of Aboriginal art, 'Bitter + Sweet', pg. 174-239, Carlton, 2010, 201, 202-203 (colour illus.), 204, 207, 250, 268. NOTE: Another impression reproduced

Sandra Phillips (Editor), Racism, representation and photography, Stanmore, 1994, 85 (illus.).

Judith White, Look, 'The country within', pg. 8-9, Melbourne, Sep 1999, 9 (colour illus.).