He had a dream

The untold story of what drove Vincent Lingiari to lead the Wave Hill walk-off.

“Those stories are as true and as real as someone having the audacity to say ‘I have a dream’ that racism will be changed in the United States of America. They’re the sorts of dreams that would motivate a leader to hold an eight-year campaign as opposed to an eight-week campaign.”

It’s been 53 years since Vincent Lingiari led 200 Gurundji people—Aboriginal stockmen, domestic workers, and their families—on a walk-off from the Wave Hill cattle station in protest against atrocious housing and working conditions, meagre provisions and unequal pay.

That strike morphed into an eight-year campaign to reclaim the traditional lands of the Gurundji people, and one that was realised—symbolically, at least—when in 1975, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam poured red dirt into Vincent Lingiari’s hands in symbolic recognition of Indigenous sovereignty.

The walk-off and the ensuing protest are now seen as the birth of the land rights movement in Australia.

Little is known, however, about the role Christian leaders played in the protest—a category that, it turns out, includes Vincent Lingiari. 

And even less is known about the dreams Vincent Lingiari had that assured him that the land was promised to the Gurundji people.

Mark Yettica-Paulson is the son of Rev. Graham Paulson, the first Indigenous Baptist minister, and the man who baptised Vincent Lingiari. 

In this episode of Life & Faith, Mark shares his father’s memories of Vincent Lingiari, and how the Gurundji leader came to be seen as Moses figure who led his people out of captivity to a land of their own.

Thank you to the National Museum of Australia for making the following recording of Poor Bugger Me available: