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2004/52/1 Photograph, colour print, 'Gough Whitlam pouring soil into the hands of traditional owner Vincent Lingiari', paper, photographed by Mervyn Bishop, Northern Territory, Australia, 1975, printed in Australia, 2000. Click to enlarge.

‘Gough Whitlam pouring soil into the hands of traditional owner Vincent Lingiari’ by Mervyn Bishop

Photographed 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 Vincent Lingiari as a symbolic gesture of the return of land. This photograph signifies the Australian Government giving back land to Indigenous people after Vincent Lingiari and four other traditional owners petitioned the Governor-General in 1967 in Australia's first Aboriginal land rights claim. The petition argued that 'morally the land is ours and should be returned to us'.

Mervyn Bishop was Australia's first Koori press photographer. This famous shot was one of a number of photographs which established Mervyn Bishop's reputation as a photographer.

In 1963 he started working as a cadet photographer for the Sydney Morning Herald where he worked for seventeen years. In 1971 he won the News Photographer of the Year Award for a shot called 'A Life and Death Dash', of a Nun rushing a child suspected of taking a drug overdose to hospital.

Mervyn states: It was customary in the Herald that any photographer who'd won the award got promoted, but that wasn't to be for me. I was quietly told that I wouldn't get a promotion. The reasons weren't exactly spelled out, but I knew I'd hit a barrier in what I had to remind myself was still a white world'. (Ref: Andrew Dewdney, 'Racism, Representation and Photography', 1994, pg 84.)

When Mervyn Bishop clicked the shutter on his Hasselblad film camera, to photograph Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and Vincent Lingiari, 'he knew he had a pretty good image'.Taken nine years after Vincent Lingiari and 200 stockmen and house workers walked off wave Hill cattle station in August 1966, and their long running protest finally bore fruit, it captures Prime Minister Gough Whitlam formally handed back part of the station to the Gurindji people in 1975. (1)

".. as photographer for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs that Bishop travelled from Darwin to Wattie Creek to record the handover of land to the Gurindji people. Women's Weekly photographer Keith Barlow flew with Bishop to record the historic event. In an ABC radio interview, Bishop recalled that the ceremony was performed in ‘what looked like a bough shed', which meant that Barlow and Bishop took their initial photographs ‘in the shade'. Following the ceremony, after Barlow remarked to Bishop that the photos would be better taken outside in the sunlight, Bishop approached Whitlam to request a re-shoot of the ceremony outside. Mr Whitlam agreed immediately and Bishop remembers helping ‘Uncle Vincent' outside for the re-shoot. ... Positioned against a background of brilliant blue sky and red desert sands, Whitlam's symbolic gesture, captured so powerfully in this iconic photograph, is a reflection of Mervyn Bishop's Indigenous sensibility of place and space and remains a moving tribute, not only to two great Australian men, but to a never-to-be forgotten moment in Australian Aboriginal history." (2)

(1) James Elton-Pym, How Aboriginal photographer Mervyn Bishop captured famous Wave Hill pic (19 August 2016) http://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/article/2016/03/02/vincent-lingiari-gough-whitlam-story-behind-image?cid=inbody:wave-hill-walkoff-celebrates-50-years-and-remembers-vincent-lingiari
(2) The story behind an iconic image (5 Nov 2014) http://www.nma.gov.au/history/aboriginal-torres-strait-islander-cultures-histories/goree/news_items/an_iconic_image Accesed 27/9/2016)

References:
http://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/article/2016/08/11/wave-hill-walk-celebrates-50-years-and-remembers-vincent-lingiari?cid=inbody:how-aboriginal-photographer-mervyn-bishop-captured-famous-wave-hill-pic

Summary

Object No.

2004/52/1

Object Statement

Photograph, colour print, 'Gough Whitlam pouring soil into the hands of traditional owner Vincent Lingiari', paper, photographed by Mervyn Bishop, Northern Territory, Australia, 1975, printed in Australia, 2000

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.

Dimensions

Height

508 mm

Width

406 mm

Production

Printed

Australia, Oceania 2000

Notes

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

History

Notes

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.

Source

Credit Line

Purchased 2000

Acquisition Date

17 March 2004

Cite this Object

Harvard

'Gough Whitlam pouring soil into the hands of traditional owner Vincent Lingiari' by Mervyn Bishop 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 11 July 2020, <https://ma.as/344580>

Wikipedia

{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/344580 |title='Gough Whitlam pouring soil into the hands of traditional owner Vincent Lingiari' by Mervyn Bishop |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=11 July 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}

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