Gurindji History

Ngumpin Kartiya - A short feature about the Gurindji People and legacy

Our story


For tens of thousands of years, the Gurindji people lived and thrived in the heart of what is now known as the Northern Territory.  

When whitefellas arrived and occupied Gurindji Country in the 1880s, bringing horses and cattle with them, immense pressure was placed on the traditional way of life. Intimidation, violence and upheaval followed. And, ultimately, these pastoralists exploited Gurindji people to work on their cattle stations under truly awful conditions. 

This shameful abuse went on for nearly 80 years.

The price of equality - ABC 4 Corners 1966


In the mid 1960s, tired of being treated terribly for far too long on Lord Vestey’s Wave Hill Station, the Gurindji stockmen, led by Vincent Lingiari and others, said ‘enough is enough’. No longer would they toil in such unfair conditions. 

In the face of certain brutality and violence, they made the incredibly brave decision to walk off the job, demanding fair wages and conditions before returning.  

With support from the Unions and others, news of the Gurindji strike spread widely. And what began as a simple dispute about working conditions and wages, soon became a battle for something much bigger.
“We want to live on our land, our way,” Vincent famously declared at the time. 

They now wanted to rightfully reclaim their land. 


Despite constant pressure, intimidation and threats to end the strike, they held strong. The powers that be tried everything to break their resolve, to isolate them, to drive them to starvation, but they were patient. They waited…. and waited.

After nine long years, the Gurindji’s endurance paid off. They won. And that famous photograph of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam ceremonially presenting Vincent Lingiari with a handful of Gurindji earth is an image that still today means so much to so many people.

Importantly, the Gurindji’s bravery and resolve sparked the Land Rights movement. Their determination created a brighter future for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Unlucky Australians – a documentary featuring Frank Hardy


Over the last 56 years, the heroic Gurindji story has become the subject of films, documentaries, books and songs.  They remain an enduring symbol of hope for many Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people.

The Gurindji stockmen and their families who stood up to power and won, should always be remembered as true heroes.

In their honour, we gather on Gurindji Country every August to commemorate and celebrate at the Gurindji Freedom Day Festival. People from far and wide make the important pilgrimage to pay their respects and to enjoy three days of culture, music, sports, talks, tours and more.

The festival is delivered by the Gurindji Aboriginal Corporation, a non-profit community development organisation owned and led by Gurindji people. This iconic event helps to keep Gurindji culture and the Gurindji story alive.


In our communities are ‘one mob’, with Gurindji, Malngin, Bilinara, Mudburra and Ngarinyman speakers from nearby. Together, we call ourselves Ngumpit, and share most of our languages and culture. Warlpiri people have also lived with us for generations.

Our country is richly varied and includes the headwaters of the Victoria River. According to our elders, the land is alive with the spirit ancestors who created our country. Jurntakal (snake) is a major Dreaming for us. In the Dreamtime, Jurntakal travelled from Spring Creek in the west, across upper Wattie Creek, and into Mudburra country at Gordie Springs. Before our land was taken up by European settlers, our old people shared our world with Kurraj (Rainbow Snakes), Karukany (mermaids) and other spirits.

Today, people at Daguragu and Kalkaringi mostly speak Gurindji, Kriol and English. Everyone inherits a skin-name at birth. There are four for boys, like Janama and Japarta, and four for girls, like Nangala and Nawurla. We keep our skin names for life and they determine how all Ngumpit relate to each other.

Many of us are successful practising artists, using our art to tell stories about our land, Dreamings and history. The Karungkarni Art and Cultural Centre is a focal point for our community. Local ceremonial life is secret-sacred, though our senior men and women lead the young in wajarra (public) dance every year at Freedom Day.

The Story of From Little Things Big Things Grow

Essential Gurindji Reading

A Handful of Sand
Songs from the stations
Gurindji to English Dictionary
Bilinarra, Gurindji & Marlngin Plants & Animals
Mayan-kari Yurrk - More stories from Gurindji country
Karu - Growing up Gurindji