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)