A Handful of Sand: The Gurindji Struggle, After the Walk-off cover

Shortlist year: 2017

Shortlist category: Australian history

Published by: Monash University Publishing


Fifty years ago, a group of striking Aboriginal stockmen in remote Northern Territory heralded a revolution in the cattle industry and a massive shift in Aboriginal affairs. This book tells the story behind the Gurindji people’s famous Wave Hill Walk-off in 1966 and questions the meanings commonly attributed to the return of their land by Gough Whitlam in 1975. Written with a sensitive, candid and perceptive hand, A Handful of Sand reveals the path Vincent Lingiari and other Gurindji elders took to achieve their land rights victory, and how their struggles in fact began, rather than ended, with Whitlam’s handback.

About the author

Charlie Ward

Charlie Ward

Charlie Ward is a writer and historian, based in Darwin. He worked in the Gurindji communities of Kalkaringi and Daguragu between 2004 and 2006 and then as a researcher with the Stolen Generations' Link-up program in Alice Springs. Now an oral history interviewer with the National Library of Australia, Charlie’s work has appeared in journals including Griffith Review, Meanjin and Southerly. A Handful of Sand is his first book.

Judges’ comments

More than 50 years ago, in very top of the Northern Territory, two-hundred Gurindji, Mudburra, and Warlpiri workers walked-off the remote Wave Hill cattle station and declared themselves to be on strike. Led by the now legendary Aboriginal leader Vincent Lingiari these men set in motion a new future, which led to better pay, more control and ultimately land rights.

A Handful of Sand is a significant book by a young researcher who has worked in and studied indigenous communities for many years. The story has been covered at length in the press, however this book provides a perspective missing from much daily journalism.

Charlie Ward deals with the complexities of the Wave Hill walk-off and the return of the Gurindji land in a sophisticated manner. The narrative is honest and told with an appropriate reticence: Ward is an insider/outsider who never loses his professional judgement nor his respect for the protagonists in this inspiring but sometimes tragic story.

He is an historian who interrogates his material to dissect the complex issues of the state versus individuals and the internal tensions between generations of established leaders and younger Aborigines with different ambitions and capacities.

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