Photograph of Gough Whitlam and Vincent Lingiari by Mervyn Bishop

Made by Bishop, Mervyn in Northern Territory, Australia, 1975.

The photograph was taken in 1975 at a land hand back ceremony for the Gurindji people in the Northern Territory, Australia. Taken with red earth behind and bright blue sky above, and two towering figures in the centre - then Prime Minister of Australia Gough Whitlam traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari - this photograph has become a symbol of the land rights movement in Australia.

The photograph shows then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pouring soil into the hands of traditional land owner V...


Object No.


Physical Description

This colour photographic print shows the then Prime Minister of Australia Gough Whitlam pouring soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari in a hand back ceremony in the Northern Territory in 1975. The photograph is in full colour and is in portrait format.



508 mm


406 mm



The image was taken by photographer, Mervyn Bishop, in 1975 and reprinted [from the original transparency] in 2000.

Mervyn Bishop (b 1945, Berwarrina, northern NSW) was Australia's first Koori press photographer. In 1963 he started working as a cadet photographer for the Sydney Morning Herald where he worked for seventeen (initially 11) years and completed a Photography Cerificate Course at Sydney Technical College. He won the prestigious national News Photographer of the Year Award in 1971 for a shot called 'A Life and Death Dash', of a Nun rushing a child suspected of taking a drug overdose to hospital. Mervyn became staff photographer withthe newly established Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA) in Canberra in 1974, travelling and photographing Aboriginal communitiies around Australia. He returned to the Sydney Morning Herald from 1979-1986, before moving to the National Geographic Society, and finally going out on his own as a freelance photographer and photography teacher.

Mervyn Bishop received an Associate Diploma in Adult Education at Sydney College of Advanced Education in 1989, and taught photography at Tranby Aboriginal College in Glebe and the TAFE Eora Centre in Redfern, Sydney.

Bishop's work featured in the 'Aboriginal and Islanders Photographers' exhibition held at the Aboriginal Artists Gallery, Sydney in 1986, and his solo exhibition 'In Dreams: Mervyn Bishop, 30 Years of Photography 1960-1990', curated by Tracy Moffatt, toured nationally and to the United Kingdom in 1991.

Mervyn Bishop was the recipient of the Red Ochre Award of 2000.

Reference: Dr Anita Heiss, 'Moments in Time', Arts Yarn Up, Summer 2001, pp.6-11


Bishop, Mervyn 1975



This photograph captures a significant moment in Australian Aboriginal history, the Gurindji Handback Ceremony when then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam poured a handful of earth back into the hand of Vincent Lingiari, Gurindji elder and traditional land owner.

Acquired in 2004, it was exhibited in Bayagul: contemporary Indigenous communication, a long term MAAS Indigenous gallery which opened on 23 May 2000. ?Bayagul' means ?speaking up' in the Eora language. The exhibition focused on four key industries - media, fashion, tourism and performing arts. It sought to convey the diversity of Indigenous cultural identity in contemporary Australia.

The photograph later toured with the 'Our place: Indigenous Australia now' exhibition to Athens, Greece in July 2004.

Exhibited in ICONS: from the collection of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, 2016.

When Mervyn returned to his home town in Berwarrina in north-west NSW in 1999 to document the launch of MAAS's 'Sharing a Wailwan' story exhibition during Reconciliation Week, he photographed the famous series of stone weir fish traps constructed to assist the local Indigenous people catch fish on the Barwon River.


Credit Line

Purchased 2000

Acquisition Date

17 March 2004

Cite this Object


Photograph of Gough Whitlam and Vincent Lingiari by Mervyn Bishop 2018, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 20 October 2018, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Photograph of Gough Whitlam and Vincent Lingiari by Mervyn Bishop |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=20 October 2018 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}


This object record is currently incomplete. Other information may exist in a non-digital form. The Museum continues to update and add new research to collection records.

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