Please note: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, voices or names of deceased persons in photographs, film, audio recordings or printed material.

Some material may contain terms that reflect authors’ views, or those of the period in which the item was written or recorded, but may not be considered appropriate today. These views are not necessarily the views of AIATSIS. While the information may not reflect current understanding, it is provided in an historical context.

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The Barunga Statement

In 1988, the Jawoyn community in Barunga, Northern Territory, invited people from across Australia and the world to their annual Barunga Sport and Cultural Festival. Former Prime Minister the Hon. Bob Hawke along with Galarrwuy Yunupingu AM and Wenten Rubuntja AM, chairs of the Northern and Central Land Councils, accepted their invitation.

At the festival, Yunupingu and Rubuntja presented Hawke with The Barunga Statement, a painted declaration that included the aspirations of ‘the Indigenous owners and occupiers of Australia’ and a request to the Australian Government and people to ‘recognise our rights’. The Statement was a product of extensive engagement between Aboriginal leaders in the Northern Territory and the Australian Government.

The dot-style painting of Central Australia and the cross-hatching paintings of Northeast Arnhem Land show that Aboriginal people of different countries, speaking different languages, can unite in the same struggle.

Galarrwuy Yunupingu, excerpted from his essay ‘Indigenous Art in the Olympic Age’ published in Art and Australia, vol. 35, no. 1, 1997

Background image:
Release of balloons in the colours of the Australian Aboriginal Flag, from Make it Right! 1988, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies with Northern and Central Land Councils, AIATSIS Collection, courtesy of Ronin Films

Barunga Sport and Cultural Festival, 10-13 June 1988

The Barunga Festival is an annual event held at Barunga in the Northern Territory that draws people from across the far north of Australia together for a programme of music, sport, arts and cultural activities. The Festival was first held in 1985, and was initiated by Bangardi Robert Lee (1952–2005), a leader of the Bagala clan of the Jawoyn people.

Barunga and other festivals are important venues for the celebration and sharing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural practices, and provide opportunities for communities to engage with current social and political issues. In 1988, the Jawoyn community welcomed to the Festival representatives of the Northern and Central Land Councils as well as the Prime Minister and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.

"The main aim of the festival is to bring people together, sharing and understanding each other’s problems. This way we can get to know one another properly."

Bangardi Robert Lee, excerpted from “The Man Behind the Barunga Festival” Land Rights News v2n9 July 1988, page 22

Background image:
"Welcome to Barunga" banner, from Make it Right! 1988, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies with Northern and Central Land Councils, AIATSIS Collection, courtesy of Ronin Films

Land Rights News coverage of the Barunga Sport and Cultural Festival, July 1988.

RS 26.7/2 Land Rights News v2n9 July 1988 p3
RS 26.7/2 Land Rights News v2n9 July 1988 p3
RS 26.7/2 Land Rights News v2n9 July 1988 p22
RS 26.7/2 Land Rights News v2n9 July 1988 p22
RS 26.7/2 Land Rights News v2n9 July 1988 p23
RS 26.7/2 Land Rights News v2n9 July 1988 p23
RS 26.7/2 Land Rights News v2n9 July 1988 p24–25
RS 26.7/2 Land Rights News v2n9 July 1988 p24–25
RS 26.7/2 Land Rights News v2n9 July 1988 p26
RS 26.7/2 Land Rights News v2n9 July 1988 p26
RS 26.7/2 Land Rights News v2n9 July 1988 p27
RS 26.7/2 Land Rights News v2n9 July 1988 p27
Celebrating cultural surival poster
This poster was produced for the 1988 Barunga Sport and Cultural Festival. Graphic artist and journalist Chips Mackinolty is well known for his work with Aboriginal communities. At the time that he designed this poster, he was working with the Northern Land Council. The design uses the bold black lines and halftone dots that were common features of 1980s Australian political posters. The illustration of an Aboriginal elder from northern Australia performing on the didjeridu was also used for other promotional material for the Festival. Invitations to the Festival featuring this image can be seen being printed in the opening scene of the film Make it right!
T-shirt for the Barunga Sport and Cultural Festival, 10-13 June 1988
T-shirt for the Barunga Sport and Cultural Festival, 10-13 June 1988
Printed cotton
Official Gift transferred from Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet 2016
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Collection.

Working for country - The Northern and Central Land Councils

The Barunga Statement was a product of decades of engagement between Aboriginal leaders in the Northern Territory and the Australian Government. Two historic events of the 1960s were the 1963 submission of bark petitions from the Yolngu people of Yirrkala to the Australian Parliament and the 1966 walk off of Gurindji stockmen at Wave Hill Station. These events are now recognised as nationally important in the development of rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In response to such events, a Royal Commission into land rights in the Northern Territory began in 1973. The commission’s recommendations led to the establishment of the Northern and Central Land Councils which received formal recognition under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976.

Wenten Rubuntja and Galarrwuy Yunupingu planning The Barunga Statement, from Make it Right! 1988, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies with Northern and Central Land Councils, AIATSIS Collection, courtesy of Ronin Films.
Wenten Rubuntja and Galarrwuy Yunupingu planning The Barunga Statement, from Make it Right! 1988, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies with Northern and Central Land Councils, AIATSIS Collection, courtesy of Ronin Films.

Today, the Northern Land Council and Central Land Council are Aboriginal-run statutory authorities of the Australian Government. Aboriginal land owners control almost half of the land mass of the Northern Territory and 85 per cent of the coastline. The Councils assist Aboriginal communities to care for and develop their country.

Background image:
Galarrwuy Yunupingu and Wenten Rubuntja greeting the parliamentary party, Barunga, 12 June 1988, from Make it Right! 1988, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies with Northern and Central Land Councils, AIATSIS Collection, courtesy of Ronin Films.

Anwerne painting antheke ikwere. Land rights for country line, land rights-ke arratye anetyeke.

We gave him that painting. Land rights for country line — so that there really would be land rights.

Wenten Rubuntja excerpted from his autobiography, The Town Grew Up Dancing, page 128, 2002

The Barunga Statement, 1988

The Barunga Statement is one of several significant painted documents that Aboriginal people have presented to the Australian Government. Painted during the 1988 Barunga Sport and Cultural Festival, it was the culmination of years of discussions between Aboriginal groups in the Northern Territory and the Australian Government. The Statement combines iconography from northern and central Australia and English language text in a triumph of collaboration across cultures and languages.

The Statement was presented by the Northern and Central Land Councils to the former Prime Minister Bob Hawke as an ongoing reminder of the Australian Government’s responsibility to Aboriginal people. Galarrwuy Yunupingu, then Chair of Northern Land Council, in his speech at Barunga said:

"...the notice that we will present to the Prime Minister now will remind, not only Bob Hawke, but the next one after him and the next one after him and the next one after him and the next one after him and we can count that for another twenty to a hundred years. And after and more after and forever."

The Barunga Statement has been on permanent exhibition at Parliament House since 20th December 1991.

Read the text of The Barunga Statement here (PDF, 67KB)

The Barunga Statement artwork
The Barunga Statement 1988 - natural pigments on composition board with attached printed text on paper presented by Central Land Council and Northern Land Council 1988
Gifts Collection
Parliament House Art Collection

Artists of The Barunga Statement

Galarrwuy Yunupingu AM
born 1948
Gumatj people

Marrirra Marawili
c. 1937-2018
Madarrpa people

Bakulangay Marawili
1944-2002
Madarrpa people

Djambawa Marawili AM
born 1953
Madarrpa people

Dula Ngurruwuthun
1936-2001
Munyuku people

Djewiny Ngurruwuthun
c. 1940-2001
Munyuku people

Wenten Rubuntja AM
c. 1926-2005
Arrernte people

Lindsay Turner Jampijinpa
1951-2009
Warlpiri people

Mr D Williams Japanangka
1948-2013
Warlpiri people

 

Under Yolngu mourning protocols, the names of people who have passed should not be spoken for a period of time. Marrirra Marawili passed away in February 2018, and we respectfully request that his name is not spoken aloud.

Saltwater country

The left-hand side of The Barunga Statement was completed by Yolngu men from northern Australia. The delicate cross-hatching lines are distinctive to the artists of this part of Australia and were created using fine hair brushes and earth pigments.

The panel has three sections depicting Dreaming stories from different parts of north east Arnhem Land: at the top, the Crocodile Fire Dreaming of the Madarrpa people of the Blue Mud Bay area; in the middle, the Crocodile Fire Dreaming of the Gumatj people of the Caledon Bay area; and at the bottom, the Whale Dreaming of the Trial Bay area.

Yolngu people have a long history of presenting painted petitions to the Australian Government. In 1963, the Yirrkala Bark Petitions were sent to the Australian Parliament in protest at a proposed bauxite mine on Yolngu land. The Yirrkala Bark Petitions are now on permanent display in Members Hall at the centre of at Australian Parliament House.

Artist of The Barunga Statement, Djambawa Marawili, also instigated the Saltwater Collection of bark paintings. In 2008 these paintings were recognised as legal documents by the High Court of Australia as part of a sea rights decision for the Blue Mud Bay region in North-East Arnhem Land.

The Barunga Statement 1988
The Barunga Statement 1988

Desert country

The right-hand side of The Barunga Statement was completed by Arrernte and Warlpiri men from central Australia. Dot-style painting is one of the major forms of expression for artists from this region.

The painting depicts the Two Women Dreaming, a story that crosses the continent and links the major language groups of central Australia. Women gathering at Ulpanyali and Ilpilli, sites in the south-west of the Northern Territory, are depicted in the top and lower sections of the painting. The central design shows the women coming together to exchange gifts and carry the story on through their country. This same design has been used as the logo for the Central Land Council since the 1970s.

People from central Australia have used painting to share their culture and knowledge of country with the world. Wenten Rubuntja, along with his leadership roles was also an acclaimed artist. In his support for land rights and reconciliation, Rubuntja believed in the importance of maintaining his Arrente culture alongside the European. This co-existence was reflected in his painting in two distinct styles: the dot-style of The Barunga Statement and the naturalistic watercolour popularised by his father’s cousin, Albert Namatjira.

The painting surrounds the words of the statement, showing that our painting for the land and the words that express it in English speak equally.

They cannot be differentiated.

Galarrwuy Yunupingu, excerpted from his essay ‘Indigenous Art in the Olympic Age’ published in Art & Australia, vol. 35, no. 1, 1997
Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Make it Right! film still featuring Barb Shaw, Hazel Hawke and women at the Barunga Sport and Cultural Festival, 1988, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Collection

Women's ceremony

Women representing the Northern and Central Land Councils and Jawoyn elders welcomed Mrs Hazel Hawke, wife of Prime Minister Bob Hawke, to the 1988 Barunga Sport and Culture Festival. During her lifetime, Mrs Hawke maintained a strong commitment to a number of social justice issues, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander reconciliation.

As part of the official ceremony at Barunga, Mrs Hawke was presented with gifts that represented cultures from both northern and central Australia. These gifts were held by the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet until 2016 when they were transferred to the care of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. This is the first time they have been exhibited to the public.

"We had been informed Mrs Hawke would be travelling with her husband. We had to ensure she would be supported and guided during the official parts of the ceremony. Where there were moments the Honourable Prime Minister stood with the men, I facilitated her place to stand with us, to be included and welcomed by the women."

Barb Shaw, 2018
Barb Shaw, Hazel Hawke and Northern Territory women at the Barunga Sport and Cultural Festival, from Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Make it right! 1988, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Collection, courtesy of Ronin Films.

Feathered djirrk (string bag)

Feathered djirrk (string bag)
Ruby Maialbi (attributed)
Feathered djirrk (string bag)
approximately 1988
natural fibres and feathers
Maningrida Arts and Crafts
presented to Hazel Hawke at the Barunga Sport and Cultural Festival 1988
Official Gift transferred from Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet 2016
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Collection

Painted clapsticks

Painted clapsticks
Painted clapsticks
approximately 1988
paint on wood
presented to Hazel Hawke at the Barunga Sport and Cultural Festival 1988
Official Gift transferred from Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet 2016
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Collection

Wool headband

Wool headband
Wool headband
1988
wool
presented to Hazel Hawke at the Barunga Sport and Cultural Festival 1988
Official Gift transferred from Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet 2016
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Collection

Feathered headdress

Feathered headdress
Feathered headdress
1988
feathers and wool
presented to Hazel Hawke at the Barunga Sport and Cultural Festival 1988
Official Gift transferred from Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet 2016
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Collection

Make it right!

AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE OF ABORIGINAL STUDIES (producer)
Central Land Council (producer)
Northern Land Council (producer)
Kim MCKENZIE (director, photographer, editor) 1949-2013
Wayne Jowandi BARKER (sound recordist) born 1957
Jugun / Jabirr Jabirr people

Title scene from Make it Right! 1988, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies with Northern and Central Land Councils, AIATSIS Collection, courtesy of Ronin Films
Title scene from Make it Right! 1988, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies with Northern and Central Land Councils, AIATSIS Collection, courtesy of Ronin Films

Make it right! is available for purchase and online viewing through Ronin Films

Film still from Make it Right!

Make it right! (1988) is a documentary film about the events of the 1988 Barunga Sport and Cultural Festival. The film records the creation of The Barunga Statement and the ceremonies and speeches that accompanied its presentation. These significant events are located within the daily life and community preparations for the Festival. Renowned director Kim McKenzie worked with sound recordist Wayne Jowandi Barker, who had previously worked as a trainee at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Film Unit. Images and excerpts from the film can be seen throughout this exhibition.

Painting of The Barunga Statement from Make it Right! 1988, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies with Northern and Central Land Councils, AIATSIS Collection, courtesy of Ronin Films.

Painting of The Barunga Statement from Make it Right! 1988, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies with Northern and Central Land Councils, AIATSIS Collection, courtesy of Ronin Films
Painting of The Barunga Statement from Make it Right! 1988, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies with Northern and Central Land Councils, AIATSIS Collection, courtesy of Ronin Films

Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Film Unit

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies established and maintained a Film Unit from 1961 to 1991. The unit produced an extensive series of documentary films that today form a unique and important record of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and history. The unit undertook a collaborative approach to film-making with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as active contributors. Make it right! was the final film released by the Film Unit.

Galarrwuy Yunupingu AM [born 1948] Gumatj people speaking at the Barunga Sport and Cultural Festival, 12 June 1988, excerpted from Make it right!, 1988, documentary produced by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies with Central Land Council and Northern Land Council
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Collection, courtesy of Ronin Films.

Painted for ceremony, Galarrwuy Yunupingu gave a powerful speech as he presented The Barunga Statement to Prime Minister Bob Hawke. Yunupingu is a leader of the Gumatj clan of the Yolngu people, North East Arnhem Land, and an important advocate for Aboriginal rights. In his role as Chair of the Northern Land Council, he was instrumental in the planning and painting of The Barunga Statement. In his speech, he described the Statement as 'something to remind any government […] that Aboriginal people will always be in front of their policy making and decision making'.

Prime Minister Bob Hawke speaking at the Barunga Sport and Cultural Festival, 12 June 1988, excerpted from Make it right!, 1988, documentary produced by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies with Central Land Council and Northern Land Council Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Collection, courtesy of Ronin Films.

1988 marked the bicentennial of the arrival of the British First Fleet in the Sydney region. The commemoration of this event heightened tensions between the Australian government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The British colonisation of Australia had been conducted without a formal agreement with the original inhabitants of the continent.

In June 1988, the Hawke Labor Government adopted as its official policy support for a treaty between the Australian government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The following week, in Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s speech at the 1988 Barunga Sport and Cultural Festival, he agreed to the request for a treaty-making process expressed in the Barunga Statement.

Hawke stepped down as Prime Minister in 1991 without having fulfilled his promise. That same year, Australian band, Yothu Yindu, released their chart-topping single Treaty with a video featuring footage of The Barunga Statement and the lyrics:

Well I heard it on the radio
And I saw it on the television
Back in 1988
All those talking politicians
Words are easy, words are cheap
Much cheaper than our priceless land
But promises can disappear
Just like writing in the sand

Wenten Rubuntja AM [c. 1926-2005] Arrernte people speaking at Australian Parliament House, 20 December 1991, excerpted from footage from the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation collection, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Collection.

On 20 December 1991, a ceremony was held to welcome The Barunga Statement to Parliament House. Co-creators of the Statement Galarrwuy Yunupingu and Wenten Rubuntja gave speeches, along with Prime Minister Bob Hawke and Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs the Hon Robert Tickner. The unveiling was Hawke’s last act as Prime Minister, as the previous day the Hon Paul Keating had mounted a successful leadership challenge defeating Hawke to replace him as Prime Minister.

Project partners

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies logo
 
Australian Parliament House logo
Australian Parliament House logo
 

Acknowledgement

We would like to acknowledge the support of the following organisations and individuals:

Central Land Council

Northern Land Council

Ronin Films

Jawoyn Association

Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre

Galarrwuy Yunupingu

Mervyn Rubuntja

In preparing this exhibition, we have identified and contacted copyright holders wherever possible, as well as where appropriate sought cultural permissions. Where we could not identify or contact copyright holders, we have digitised and published items in the public spirit with which the works were originally created and gifted.

Background image:
Release of balloons in the colours of the Australian Aboriginal Flag, from Make it Right! 1988, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies with Northern and Central Land Councils, AIATSIS Collection, courtesy of Ronin Films

AIATSIS acknowledges the traditional owners of country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, culture and community.

We pay our respects to elders past and present.