Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory
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.
type R photograph
76.0 x 50.7 cm image / sheet
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated
Not on display
© Mervyn Bishop/ Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Shown in 1 exhibition
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.
Judith White, Look, 'The country within', pg. 8-9, Melbourne, Sep 1999, 9 (colour illus.).
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
Yiribana: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collection, Sydney, 1994, 120, 121 (colour illus.), 136, 139. plate no. 59
Racism, representation and photography, Stanmore, 1994, 85 (illus.).