Skip to main content

Discussion between Bob Hawke and Galarrwuy Yunupingu, Burunga Festival, Northern Territory
, 1988 (printed 2015)

by Sue Ford

gelatin silver photograph (sheet: 50.8 cm x 60.5 cm, image: 39.3 cm x 59.7 cm)

Sue Ford, photographer, filmmaker and photo-media artist, was the first woman photographer to be given a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. Making many key images exploring women’s everyday lives and the politics of representation in the 1970s, during the late 1980s Ford became increasingly interested in indigenous issues, race, representation and colonisation.

In 1988, Sue Ford attended the Barunga festival of culture and sports. The then prime minister, Bob Hawke, and Aboriginal affairs minister Gerry Hand visited the festival to meet with senior Aboriginal men. They included Gamatj clan leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu AM (b.1948), who had known Hawke for years. Galarrwuy had helped his father, Mungurrawuy Yunupingu, draft the famous Bark Petition of 1963 to Federal Parliament, launching the first native title case in Australia. In 1968 when the Yolgnu obtained writs against Nabalco Corporation, Galarrwuy acted as court interpreter in the Gove Land Case. He became chairman of the Northern Land Council in 1977 and was the key negotiator for the Mirrar people in the Ranger uranium mine deal, securing the lease for Kakadu National Park in November 1978. For this he was named Australian of the Year for 1978 (his brother, Mandawuy Yunupingu AC, was Australian of the Year for 1993). With other senior Aboriginal leaders including Wenten Rubuntja, in 1988 he drew up and presented to Bob Hawke another bark petition – the Barunga Statement, bearing a written proposal for Aboriginal self-determination. Hawke hung it in Parliament House on his last day in office. Galarrwuy’s is the voice chanting in Yolngu-Matha language on the hit song ‘Treaty’, an attempt to hold the government to account over its promise for a treaty by 1990. There are photographs of Galarrwuy at separate meetings over decades with Malcolm Fraser, Paul Keating, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott. He wrote a brilliant if dispiriting essay, ‘Tradition, Truth and Tomorrow’ for the Monthly magazine of December-January 2008-2009, recounting the meeting with Hawke, other such ‘historic’ meetings, and their negligible outcomes.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2015
Accession number: 2015.104