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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

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The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hand of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari

1975
Mervyn Bishop

type C photograph on paper (image/sheet: 60.7 cm x 50.7 cm)

Mervyn Bishop started his career in photojournalism in 1963, when he started a cadetship with the Sydney Morning Herald. In 1974 he became staff photographer for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, in which role he took this iconic photograph of the ceremony by which 3250 square kilometres of Gurindji country was returned to traditional owners in August 1975. The image shows Gurindji Elder Vincent Lingiari (1919–1988) and then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (1916–2014) re-enacting the handing over of the title deeds at Daguragu (Wattie Creek), where Lingiari and around 200 others had settled after walking off in protest against the conditions they faced as employees on Wave Hill cattle station, south-west of Katherine. Following its election, the Whitlam government made funds available to purchase land that was not on reserves, and Daguragu was surrendered by the British pastoral company Vestey Ltd. The official handover actually took place in a shed, but Bishop asked Lingiari and Whitlam to repeat the gesture outside so that he could photograph it in bright sunlight. Lingiari held the deeds in his left hand as Whitlam poured a handful of red earth into Lingiari's right palm 'as a sign that this land will be in the possession of you and your children forever.' It was the first time the Commonwealth Government had returned land to its original custodians.

Purchased 2000
© National Indigenous Australians Agency

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Mervyn Bishop (age 30 in 1975)

Hon. Gough Whitlam AC QC (age 59 in 1975)

Vincent Lingiari AM (age 56 in 1975)

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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