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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.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hand of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, 1975

Mervyn Bishop

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

Vincent Lingiari (1919–1988) was an Elder of the Gurindji people of the Northern Territory. In August 1966 he led a walkout of Aboriginal stockmen and their families who were employed in unsafe and inequitable conditions on Wave Hill cattle station, south-west of Katherine. Over time, a land rights claim evolved. A 1967 petition by Lingiari and his people was rejected. However, the Whitlam Government, elected in 1972, negotiated a land claim between the traditional owners and the British pastoral company Vestey Ltd. Two new leases were issued; the Gurindji acquired title to 3 250 square kilometres, including the most sacred areas of traditional lands. The Hon. Edward Gough Whitlam AC QC (1916–2014) was prime minister of Australia from the end of 1972 – when he became the first Labor prime minister since 1949 – to the end of 1975, when he was controversially dismissed. Whitlam’s election ushered in an ambitious range of new government policy on issues as various as conscription, relations with South Africa and China, free tertiary education, welfare, capital punishment, enfranchisement and Aboriginal land rights. Mervyn Bishop (b.1945) has been employed as a photographer for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, and has worked freelance, often for Aboriginal organisations, since 1986. In 1971 he was named Press Photographer of the Year on the strength of his picture Life and death dash, depicting a desperate nun clutching a screaming, sick child. In 2017 the Art Gallery of New South Wales held a major retrospective, Mervyn Bishop, combining his 'iconic' images with pictures he took of his family and other characters around Brewarrina, where he grew up. Bishop was present when Gough Whitlam gave up the deeds to the traditional lands in a shed at Daguragu (Wattie Creek), Northern Territory in August 1975 and persuaded the protagonists to repeat the transaction in the open air. Nugget Coombs had suggested to Whitlam that he should pour soil into the hand of Vincent Lingiari as he handed over the deeds to the Gurindji – a reversal of the gesture between John Batman and the Wurundjeri as the ‘rights’ to the land now occupied by Melbourne were exchanged in 1835.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2000
© National Indigenous Australians Agency

Accession number: 2001.8

Currently on display: Gallery Four (Liangis Gallery)

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Artist and subject

Mervyn Bishop (age 30 in 1975)

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

Vincent Lingiari (age 56 in 1975)

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hand of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, 1975 Mervyn Bishop
Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hand of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, 1975 Mervyn Bishop
Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hand of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, 1975 Mervyn Bishop
Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hand of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, 1975 Mervyn Bishop

A handful of sand

Magazine article by Ellen Kent, 2007

Ellen Kent examines the portrait of Vincent Lingiari and Prime Minister Gough Whitlam taken by photographer Mervyn Bishop.

Elle Macpherson, 2000 Polly Borland
Elle Macpherson, 2000 Polly Borland
Elle Macpherson, 2000 Polly Borland
Elle Macpherson, 2000 Polly Borland

Australian Visit

Previous exhibition, 2006

The exhibition will include works of art from the NPG Canberra's permanent collection with some inward loans and aims to highlight the achievements of notable Australians.

In the mirror: self portrait with Joy Hester, 1939 Albert Tucker
In the mirror: self portrait with Joy Hester, 1939 Albert Tucker
In the mirror: self portrait with Joy Hester, 1939 Albert Tucker
In the mirror: self portrait with Joy Hester, 1939 Albert Tucker

Depth of Field

Portrait Photography from the Collection

Previous exhibition, 2004

Over the last five years the National Portrait Gallery has developed a collection of portrait photographs that reflects both the strength and diversity of Australian achievement as well as the talents of our photographers.

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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.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.