from little things big things grow

November 18, 2011

awesome aussies

Warning to Indigenous people – This post contains the name and image of an Aboriginal person who is now deceased.

Blog buddy Marcia has been writing about Jamaica’s national heroes. It’s been a sad journey through some terrible history with freedoms being granted centuries later. 

One of our awesome Aussies was Vincent Lingiarri. Thank goodness Vincent was around to see the changes he fought for.

Vincent Lingiarri (1918-1988) was from the Gurindji mob in the Northern Territory. He worked on the Wave Hill station as a stockman. Many Indigenous people ended up working for white fellas on the land they once called their own. The conditions and wages (if any) were very poor. 

In 1966, Vincent led a walk-off and set up a camp at Wattie Creek (pronounced Waddie) to protest the poor conditions. Over time, the protest for better conditions became a fight to reclaim their traditional lands.

During this time, Aboriginal rights became highly political. In 1967, the Australian people via referendum voted overwhelmingly in favour (over 90%) to allow Aboriginal people to vote in federal elections and to be included in the census. Prior to this time, Aboriginal people were classified as flora and fauna.

The Gurindji protesters waited eight years. In 1975, the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam handed back Wave Hill to the Gurindji people. At a ceremony to honour the occasion, Gough Whitlam poured a handful of the earth into Vincent Lingiarri’s hands. In 1976, land rights became law in the Northern Territory.

This significant part of our history was honoured in a song titled “From Little Things Big Things Grow” written by Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly. It’s one of my family’s favourite songs. The lyrics are:

Gather round people let me tell you a story
An eight year long story of power and pride
British Lord Vestey and Vincent Lingiarri
Were opposite men on opposite sides

Vestey was fat with money and muscle
Beef was his business, broad was his door
Vincent was lean and spoke very little
He had no bank balance, hard dirt was his floor

From little things big things grow
From little things big things grow

Gurindji were working for nothing but rations
Where once they had gathered the wealth of the land
Daily the pressure got tighter and tighter
Gurindju decided they must make a stand

They picked up their swags and started off walking
At Wattie Creek they sat themselves down
Now it don’t sound like much but it sure got tongues talking
Back at the homestead and then in the town

From little things big things grow
From little things big things grow

Vestey man said I’ll double your wages
Seven quid a week you’ll have in your hand
Vincent said uhuh we’re not talking about wages
We’re sitting right here till we get our land
Vestey man roared and Vestey man thundered
You don’t stand the chance of a cinder in snow
Vince said if we fall others are rising

From little things big things grow
From little things big things grow

Then Vincent Lingiarri boarded an aeroplane
Landed in Sydney, big city of lights
And daily he went round softly speaking his story
To all kinds of men from all walks of life

And Vincent sat down with big politicians
This affair they told him is a matter of state
Let us sort it out, your people are hungry
Vincent said no thanks, we know how to wait

From little things big things grow
From little things big things grow

Then Vincent Lingiarri returned in an aeroplane
Back to his country once more to sit down
And he told his people let the stars keep on turning
We have friends in the south, in the cities and towns

Eight years went by, eight long years of waiting
Till one day a tall stranger appeared in the land
And he came with lawyers and he came with great ceremony
And through Vincent’s fingers poured a handful of sand

From little things big things grow
From little things big things grow

That was the story of Vincent Lingiarri
But this is the story of something much more
How power and privilege can not move a people
Who know where they stand and stand in the law

From little things big things grow
From little things big things grow
From little things big things grow
From little things big things grow

Now sing along…

(from the left: John Butler; Kev Carmody; & Paul Kelly)

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About hakea

groupworker, parent educator, therapist, mother of three boys.

View all posts by hakea


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11 Comments on “from little things big things grow”

  1. InsideJourneys Says:

    Wow, what a powerful symbol – pouring a handful of dirt into Lingiarri’s hand? As I read that, I felt a lump in my throat. Thanks for sharing this story, Narelle.


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Marcia

      The symbolism of that action is interesting. There are lots of interpretations depending on how one looks at power and privilege, and how one views ownership of the land. Gough is a good man and I suspect he would have had the most humblest of intentions.


  2. Team Oyeniyi Says:

    Terrific article Narelle. Thanks for drawing attention to Vincent Lingiarri. Not having been educated in Australia, this was a slice of history I did not know.


  3. Santo D'Agostino Says:

    Hi hakea,

    Nice to see a post from you after a while! Thanks very much for the beautiful story and song about Vincent Lingiarri and I am also grateful for the link to Eddie Mabo. It’s always inspiring to read about the achievements of oppressed people in standing up for their rights.

    All the best,


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Santo

      Good to see you!

      It’s a shame these stories happened in the first place. But when I compare these stories to those told by Marcia who lives in Jamaica, Australia appears a lot more moderate. But that’s not to minimise the suffering experienced by Lingiarri and Mabo and so many other Indigenous people.

      I have to pay a visit to your place soon.


  4. eof737 Says:

    What a beautifully shared story. It is great t see you back blogging and I look forward to more posts from you. I’m glad you are touching on such subjects as many remain unaware of the aborigine story and their conditions to day. TY! 🙂


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Eliz

      Long time no see!

      Thanks for your comment. This story about Vincent Lingiarri and the words of the song have been made into a children’s picture book. It’s definitely on my wish list.

      Take care.


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