CRCAH Gurindji Freedom Day Festival Blog

All Images Courtesy of Luke Grimes

Day 1-2

Ballarat to Alice Springs

2144 km's travelled


After a quick stop at the mechanic (to work out how to open the bonnet) Prof Keir Reeves and Ben Mountford (CRCAH, Federation University) and Luke Grimes (Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka) set out from Federation University's SMB Campus in Ballarat to travel to the Gurindji Freedom Day Festival in the Northern Territory. The Freedom Festival commemorates the Wave Hill Walk Off, when Indigenous stockmen and their families went on strike at Lord Vestey's Wave Hill cattle station in 1966. Their actions played a vital in the emergence of Aboriginal Land Rights as a political issue in Australia and contributed to an ongoing narrative of wage justice, civil rights, and Indigenous recognition.


Our trip comes at the invitation on the 50th anniversary festival organisers, who have asked us to come to Kalkarindji and Daguragu to speak about the history of the Walk Off and about Federation University's experience with community based education. We are also taking with us a copy of John Goldschmidt's little know documentary The Unlucky Australians (1974). Although the film screened in Europe during the 1970s, a combination of political and cultural pressure conspired to ensure it was never broadcast in Australia. The author Frank Hardy (on whose book The Unlucky Australians the film was based) eventually tooka copy to the Gurindji and screened the film on the side of a truck - but for the most part the film was hidden from view.


As part of Federation University's contribution to the Freedom Festival, the University has sponsored a screening of the film at the 2016 Freedom festival. During the festivities Ben will give the introduction to the film alongside Frank Hardy's son, Alan Hardy. Federation University will also present a dvd version of the film to the Gurindji community for their community archives.


After travelling through Victoria and South Australia, and watching the sun rise over the desert near Coober Pedy, the CRCAH-MADE team will conclude their first (long) stint on the road at Alice Springs. There (after practicing opening the bonnet again) we will interview Mr Ted Egan (OA) about his involvement with the Gurindji campaign and, in particular, his seminal protest song 'Gurindji Blues'.


Only 1226 kms left to Daguragu...

Car view


Day 3 (Part One)

Alice Springs to Kalkarindji and Daguragu.

After two days on the road the CRCAH-MADE team have arrived in the red centre. We stopped for the night in Alice Springs, where we interviewed legendary Australian songwriter Ted Egan.

A longtime friend of Gurindji elder Vincent Lingiari, and a lifelong supporter of Indigenous People, Ted's late 60s single the Gurindji Blues captured the spirit and the power of the Gurindji Walk Off and broadcast it through the turntables of the nation.

Having sold some 20,000 copies, the funds raised from the release of the Gurindji Blues played an important role in the initial establishment of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra.

Having recorded a message from Ted for the Freedom Festival, we keep pushing for the north.


'...All about land belonging to we

Poor bugger me Gurindji'

- Ted Egan, Gurindji Blues





Ben Mountford and Ted Egan, sharing a message from the British Filmaker John Goldschmidt. 

Ben Mountford and Ted Egan, sharing a message from the British Filmaker John Goldschmidt. 


Day 3 (Part 2)

Following an epic final push along the Buntine and Buchanan Highways the CRCAH-MADE team have made it to Kalkarindji for the 50th Freedom Festival. We travelled through some truly dramatic country and finally entered town over the beautiful Victoria River.

After watching the fireworks over the town and some of the bands playing on the main stage, we are now really looking forward to the festivities tomorrow and to the screening of John Goldschmidt's The Unlucky Australians here in Gurindji country, where it was filmed some 43 years ago.



Day 4 - The Unlucky Australians  

In late 2015 I met acclaimed director John Goldschmidt in London. I had learned about John's 1970s documentary The Unlucky Australians on the Wave Hill Walk Off as a result of my work own work on the international resonance of Frank Hardy's book of the same name 

Today Keir, Luke and I had the honour of finally getting to take the film back to the community. After a powerful introduction from Alan Hardy, we showed short messages from John in London and from Ted Egan in Alice. We then settled in to enjoy the film, in the shared dark of the Kalkarindji Sunday School.

After the screening we wandered over to the Karungkarni gallery to present a new DVD of the film to the Gurindji community. Starting in Glasgow, the disk travelled via Ballarat up to Kalkarindji and will now be available at the gallery.

The Unlucky Australians (1973) 

The Unlucky Australians (1973) 

The Unlucky Australians (1973) 

The Unlucky Australians (1973) 

Presenting a new DVD of the Unlucky Australians to Maurie Jakarta Ryan and Penny Smith at Kalkarindji

Presenting a new DVD of the Unlucky Australians to Maurie Jakarta Ryan and Penny Smith at Kalkarindji

One of the many great honours we enjoyed during the day was the chance to speak with Gurindji Elder Gus George. Gus was kind enough to do an interview with us after the screening of the film and expressed his hope that it might be finally seen on Australian television in the future. 

Gurindji Elder Gus George

Gurindji Elder Gus George



A brilliant day of cultural and sporting events followed in the Saturday program - with highlights including Charlie Ward's book launch, the exhibition of Frank Hardy's artworks at the old Courthouse, the evening concert and the Gurindji Eagles playing at the oval.


Tomorrow we head to Daguragu to see Wattie Creek and the township the Gurindji established in the 1960s. There we will complete our speaking commitments before wheeling around and breaking south across the island continent.


 Day 5 - Daguragu and Wattie Creek

After two amazing days at Kalkarindji, the CRCAH-MADE team followed the Freedom Festival to Daguragu for the final morning program.

Having seen many images of Wattie Creek over the years, we were prepared for it to be special - but nothing prepared us for how beautiful it actually is. On the banks of the creek we stood with the water running behind us and the sky full of bird life. 

It is was here that Vincent Lingiari famously led his people after they had endured a difficult wet season camping on the banks of the Victoria River. As he later explained, in marching to Wattie Creek Lingiari and the Gurindji were reclaiming control of their traditional lands. 'I got stories from my old father or grandpa that the land belonged to me, belonged to Aboriginal man, before all the horses and cattle came onto that land. That's what I bin keep it on my mind. I've still got that on my mind'.

All these years later we sat for a long time by Wattie Creek, thinking of old Vincent, the bravery of the Gurindji people in coming here, and the important of that act in reshaping the course of Australian history.

At Daguragu Keir took part in a panel on the future of Indigenous education in the Daguragu Hall, beneath beautiful painted panels depicting scenes from the Walk Off. In the meantime I spoke across the road with the brilliant Peter Hudson and Shirley Hardy-Rix in one of those sessions that could have gone for hours.

Afterwards we visited the stone commemorating Whitlam's visit to Daguragu to give the Gurindji back their land as well as the site of Frank Hardy's famous sign: 'Gurindji Mining Lease and Cattle Station'. It seemed a fitting place to conclude our visit to the festival. For me, one of the most moving scenes from The Unlucky Australians will always be when Pincher Nyurrmiyari, one of the Gurindji leaders, asks Hardy to make the community a sign. When asked what it should say, Nyurrmiyari replies: 'put that Gurindji word there. We bin never see that word, only in we head.' As the letters appeared on the piece of board, his 'eyes never left the sign' despite the fact 'he could not read a word of it'. When Lingiari later saw the sign he declared 'we got everything now'. 

With the Hardys, Hardy-Rixes and Peter Hudson at the Gurindji sign, Daguragu  

With the Hardys, Hardy-Rixes and Peter Hudson at the Gurindji sign, Daguragu  

Although that sign has now been replaced, the motif from Hardy's original still informs most of the signage at Daguragu and Kalkarindji and provides the inspiration for a series of beautiful storyboards created by artists at the gallery.


Day 6 - Town Like Alice, Uluru

Having left Daguragu Sunday afternoon, we took a bone-jarring, teeth-rattling ride along the Buchanan and Buntine Highways arriving on the Stuart highway in a cloud of red dust. Heading past camels, donkeys, cows, emus, echidnas, kangaroos, eagles, dingoes and all forms of lizards we made camp back in Alice Springs.

After exploring Alice Springs we drove to Uluru, spending a few hours wandering around in the afternoon sun as prep for CRCAH's new history offerings next year as part of FedUni's new Bachelor of Social Science. On the road back to the Stuart Highway the desert sky opened up ahead of us. Sheet lightening and heavy rain lit up the desert and soaked the earth. After a long drive we made it to the Erldunda Roadhouse where we settled in before the long trip home.

Luke at Uluru

Luke at Uluru

Day 7 - Erldunda Roadhouse to Burra, via Coober Pedy

After early morning interviews with the Ballarat Courier and ABC Radio Ballarat we began the slow crawl across the continent to Burra in South Australia. At Coober Pedy and Burra we called in on the mining museum and world heritage site - developing plans for our new history units for 2017. Since we were here last, the heavy rain has turned the red desert floor purple and yellow in places - desert flowers now blooming in the baking sun.

After pitching camp in Burra, we make the final leg home to Ballarat on Wednesday. With more than 7,000 kms behind us, it feels like heading downhill.

The road South from Coober Pedy

The road South from Coober Pedy

Our thanks to everyone who made the CRCAH-MADE Gurindji Freedom festival trip possible. A number of screenings of the Unlucky Australians will take place in 2017 - including at the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies at Kings College London (31 May) and at La Trobe University Bendigo (September). 

A related article by myself and Professor Keir Reeves is forthcoming. My chapter on Frank Hardy's book The Unlucky Australians will be available in Davies, Lombard and Mountford (eds) Fighting Words: Fifteen Books That Shaped the Postcolonial World (Oxford: Peter Lang, Forthcoming 2017).   



The CRCAH-MADE team, Uluru at sunset

The CRCAH-MADE team, Uluru at sunset