Yirrkala Bark Petitions – 50 Years On
Almost 50 years ago, the Yolngu people of Yirrkala in Arnhem Land sent two bark petitions framed by traditional ochre paintings of clan designs to the Australian House of Representatives.
The petitions protested the Commonwealth’s granting of mining rights on land excised from Arnhem Land reserve and sought the recognition by the Australian Parliament of Yolŋgu people’s traditional rights and ownership of their lands.
Asserting title to Yolŋgu country under Yolŋgu law, the petitions were the first traditional documents recognised by the Commonwealth Parliament and pioneered a process of legislative and constitutional reforms for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, and Minister for Indigenous Health, Warren Snowdon, attended a ceremony in Yirrkala this week to mark the 50th anniversary of the bark petitions.
Gumatj clan leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu told people attending the ceremony that local Aboriginal people wanted to be able to develop their own land.
Mr Yunupingu said, “land rights is for Aboriginal people but the land ownership and the use of land ownership” is for “mining companies” and “whitefellas”.
Mr Rudd promised to work with local communities in relation to how their land was used.
“It should not be the whitefellas around the country that tell you how to use your land," Mr Rudd said.
Mr Rudd presented surviving signatories to the bark petitions with framed certificates in honour of the significant role they have played in Australia’s Aboriginal land rights movement.