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This Yirrkala bark petition is one of a series sent by Yolungu Elders at the Yirrkala mission in northeast Arnhem Land to parliamentarians and supporters in 1963. The petitions requested parliament to appoint a committee to hear their views before permitting the excision of land from the Arnhem Land Aboriginal Reserve for mining, and not to allow any actions which would destroy their livelihood and independence.
The wording on each of the bark petitions was composed by Yolngu people at Yirrkala, typed with help from mission staff, and signed by nine Yolungu men and three Yolungu women - Millirrpum [Marika], Djalalingba, Diambalipu [aka Daymbalipu], Djayila [aka Dhayila], Dundiwuy [Dundywuy], Dhuygala, Raijyin, Manuna, Larrakan, Wulanybuma, Wawunymarra, and Nyabilingu.
One bark petition was tabled in the House of Representatives by Jock Nelson, the Member for the Northern Territory, on 14 August 1963 and a second bark petition was tabled in the House of Representatives by the Leader of the Opposition, Arthur Calwell, on 28 August in the same year. A third bark petition was sent to Stan Davey, General Secretary of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI), while this petition was presented to Gordon Bryant.
A rectangular bark painting that forms a border around a typed petition on paper. The bark is painted with yellow, white, brown, red, and black ochre. The border depicts a man, a kangaroo, a turtle, a dugong, a crocodile, a stingray, fish, several birds, and a canoe on a background of cross-hatching. The petition is stuck to the centre of the bark and has a heading that reads 'TO THE HONOURABLE SPEAKER AND MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES / IN PARLIAMENT ASSEMBLED...'. There are two blocks of text underneath the heading. The first block of text is in English and begins 'The humble petition of the undersigned aboriginal people of Yirrakala...' The second block of text is in an Australian Aboriginal language. Each lists eight points. There are 12 handwritten signatures below the typed text. The paper is yellowed with some brown staining and it is wavy and wrinkled in places. There are two very small tears at the bottom of the paper.
This object is one of four similar 'Yirrkala bark petitions', each of which is comprised of a signed paper petition pasted to a painted bark panel. These four are a sub-set of a series of eight similar petitions which Yolngu Elders from the Yirrkala mission in north-east Arnhem Land sent to different parliamentarians and supporters in 1963. Two of the petitions were tabled in the House of Representatives in August 1963. Yolngu people used the bark petitions to call upon the House to 'protect their livelihood and independence' from impending mining activity. They further called for the appointment of a committee to hear the views of the Yirrkala people before excising their land for mining. This bark petition, one of the two not presented to parliament, has been held in the Bryant family since its presentation to Mr Gordon Bryant MHR in August 1963. Each of the bark petitions combined both Aboriginal and European modes of representation. The sheet attached to the front of each of the bark panels is a request or prayer typed in both English and Gumatj languages, signed by twelve Yolngu men and women. Senior Yolngu artists painted the borders of each of the panels with motifs belonging to the different Aboriginal clans whose land was under threat from the proposed mine.
The Yirrkala bark petitions were the first petitions recognised by Australia's Commonwealth Parliament which incorporated Indigenous ways of representing relationships to land. Although the petitions failed to stop the mine, they can be seen as landmarks in the struggle to have Indigenous rights to land recognised. The public support and media interest in the bark petitions and Yolngu attempts to stop mining on their land, lead to a parliamentary enquiry. Ultimately their actions led to the passing of the Northern Territory Land Rights Act of 1976. The recipient of this petition, Gordon Bryant (1914-1991), was elected as the member for the Victorian electorate of Wills in 1955. Bryant had had a life-long interest in Aboriginal affairs, being a member of the Aborigines Advancement League and vice-president of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI). It was during Bryant and fellow parliamentarian Kim Beasley Senior's visit to Yirrkala in July 1963 that the idea of a bark petition was born.
Defining Moment: Australian Government passes Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act (1976)
Curriculum: Civics and Citizenship, History
School years: 8, 10
W 345mm x H 603mm x D 45mm
Australian Government passes Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act (1976)
Date of event