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Video clip synopsis – Wattie Creek entered Australian folklore as the birthplace of the Aboriginal land-rights movement when Prime Minister Gough Whitlam visited the Gurindji people to grant them deeds to their land.
Year of production - 2009
Duration - 5min 24sec
Tags - aborigines, Australia's Heritage, discrimination, exploitation, fair and reasonable wage, Indigenous Australia, land rights, self-determination, see all tags

play Warning - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers should exercise caution when watching this program as it may contain images of deceased persons.

Wattie Creek

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About the Video Clip


Wattie Creek is an episode from the series Australia’s Heritage – National Treasures with Chris Taylor, produced in 2009.

Series Synopsis
Take a voyage of discovery with Chris Taylor as he reveals the secrets behind a fascinating mix of treasures from Australia’s National Heritage List. In the third season of five-minute documentaries in the National Treasures series, Taylor travels around Australia delivering historical snapshots of objects and places from the National Heritage List. He talks with experts and enthusiasts, revealing fascinating insights into our famous and not-so-famous past.

Australia’s Heritage – National Treasures with Chris Taylor is a Screen Australia National Documentary Program produced in association with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and made with the assistance of the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.

Curriculum Focus


Teachers and students should consult their state or territory’s curriculum and learning programs.

For information on state and territory curricula
Go to: State and territory curriculum – Curriculum Corporation

Background Information


Before the 1967 referendum the Australian Constitution prevented the Australian Government enacting policies for Aboriginal people at a national level. Policies and approaches to Aboriginal legal status, employment and living conditions were implemented under different state and territory administrations without national coordination or national responsibility. This resulted in a pattern of neglect, dependency and marginalisation, where Aboriginal Australians were highly vulnerable to exploitation.

Anthropologists Catherine and Ronald Berndt surveyed Aboriginal labour on Vestey’s pastoral leaseholds in the Northern Territory between 1944 and 1946. Vestey’s was a British business group, the largest international meat producer in the western world. They leased the Wave Hill cattle station. The Berndts documented appalling working conditions, squalor and poverty in many of the camps, and endemic malnutrition and high infant mortality rates. They reported widespread dissatisfaction and resentment of working and living conditions on pastoral stations. Indigenous accounts of ill usage, extremely limited life chances, degrading treatment, racial and sexual abuse were documented. Further, in the 1950s it was found that in the Northern Territory Aboriginal stock workers received less than 15% of the basic wage.

The immediate impetus to the Wave Hill walk-off in August 1966 by the Gurindji people, the traditional indigenous landowners, was the March 1966 decision by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to delay the payment of award wages to male Indigenous workers in the cattle industry until 1968. The walk-off concluded in March 1967, where the Gurindji settled at the place they named Daguragu, on Wattie Creek.
Their plan was to establish a pastoral operation and community run under their own leadership, on their traditional lands, to be owned by them.

This model combining Aboriginal autonomy and land rights shaped Australian government policy following the 1967 referendum.

Classroom Activities

  1. After viewing the program on Wattie Creek, discuss in class then write responses to the following:
    1. Describe the conditions experienced by the local Gurindgi people over many decades that led to their ‘walk-off’ from Wave Hill cattle station in 1966.
    2. Explain the significance of the naming of Daguragu, at Wattie Creek, and of the events that occurred there in 1967.
    3. Why is Vincent Lingiari known as ‘the father of landrights’ in Australia?
  2. Draw a map of the Northern Territory showing the locations of Wave Hill, Daguragu and the water course of Wattie Creek, in relation to other places such as Katherine, Darwin, Alice Springs and Kakadu. Construct a second, small-scale map of the route of the walk-off from start to finish, adding the dates and locations of each section of the journey.
  3. Based on the program and from further research, create a poster display of a timeline of important events in the history of Aboriginal land loss and land rights from the early decades of the 20th century to the present. Add illustrations and explanatory text as required.
  4. In pairs or small groups research and write a commentary on the development and progress of Gurindgi land control and usage since the initial 1975 breakthrough landrights document was signed.

Further Resources


Bain Attwood, Rights For Aborigines, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW, 2003

Frank Hardy, The Unlucky Australians, One Day Hill, Camberwell East, Vic, 2006

Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody, From Little Things Big Things Grow, One Day Hill, Camberwell East, Vic, 2008

Deborah Bird Rose, Hidden Histories: Black Stories from Victoria River Downs, Humbert River and Wave Hill, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 1991

Galarrwuy Yunupingu (ed), Our Land is Our Life: Land Rights: Past, Present and Future, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, Qld, 1997

Go to: National Heritage: Wave Hill walk-off route
Go to: Vincent Lingiari – Wikipedia
Go to: Indigenous land rights