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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

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

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
Elle Macpherson
Elle Macpherson
Elle Macpherson

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.

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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.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

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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