Songs about Social Change


One of the most significant events in Australian history has been the recognition of Aboriginal land rights. What began as a strike about wages and living conditions (Aboriginals were paid less than white men doing the same work) soon spread to address the more fundamental issue about a claim by Aboriginals for their traditional lands.

There are four student activities on this page.


General Activity

Student activity 1: Analyse




Read and view the following representations of this incident

  1. A web page containing a fact sheet about the Wave Hill walk-off from the National Archives
  2. A Short film from Screen Australia’s National Treasures series
  3. The Youtube clip of Gough Whitlam giving leasehold title to Vincent Lingiari, representative of the Gurindgi people

In small groups, take one of these texts and analyse its rhetorical qualities, considering

Share your findings with the class.

General Activity

Student activity 2:


Ballads have been an important form of cultural expression since the convict era. In modern times they have been seen as the poetry of the people through their connections with folk songs. They usually involve a story and have clear rhythm and rhyme scheme.


In small groups, prepare and present a readers’ theatre[1] rendition of one of the ballads below. Make sure that you cover both ballads across the class.

The Gurindji Blues

From Little Things Big Things Grow

Poor bugger me, Gurindji

My name is Vincent Lingiari, came from Daruragu, Wattie Creek station.

Me bin sit down this country

Long time before the Lord Vestey

Allabout land belongin' to we

Oh poor bugger me, Gurindji.


Poor bugger blackfeller; Gurindji

Long time work no wages, we,

Work for the good old Lord Vestey

Little bit flour; sugar and tea

For the Gurindji, from Lord Vestey

Oh poor bugger me.


Poor bugger me, Gurindji,

Man called Vincent Lingiari

Talk long allabout Gurindji

'Daguragu place for we,

Home for we, Gurindji:

But poor bugger blackfeller, Gurindji

Government boss him talk long we

'We'll build you house with electricity

But at Wave Hill, for can't you see

Wattie Creek belong to Lord Vestey'

Oh poor bugger me.


Poor bugger me, Gurindji

Up come Mr: Frank Hardy

ABSCHOL too and talk long we

Givit hand long Gurindji

Buildim house and plantim tree

Longa Wattie Creek for Gurindji

But poor bugger blackfeller Gurindji

Government Law him talk long we

'Can't givit land long blackfeller, see

Only spoilim Gurindji'

Oh poor bugger me.


Poor bugger me, Gurindji

Peter Nixon talk long we:

'Buy you own land, Gurindji

Buyim back from the Lord Vestey'

Oh poor bugger me, Gurindji.

Poor bugger blackfeller Gurindji

Suppose we buyim back country

What you reckon proper fee?

Might be flour, sugar and tea

From the Gurindji to Lord Vestey?

Oh poor bugger me.


Oh ngaiyu luyurr ngura-u

Sorry my country, Gurindji.


Gather round people I’ll tell you a story

An eight year long story of power and pride

British Lord Vestey and Vincent Lingiari

Were opposite men on opposite sides

Vestey was fat with money and muscle

Beef was his business, broad was his door

Vincent was lean and spoke very little

He had no bank balance, hard dirt was his floor


From little things big things grow

From little things big things grow


Gurindji were working for nothing but rations

Where once they had gathered the wealth of the land

Daily the pressure got tighter and tighter

Gurindji decided they must make a stand

They picked up their swags and started off walking

At Wattie Creek they sat themselves down

Now it don't sound like much but it sure got tongues talking

Back at the homestead and then in the town 


From little things big things grow

From little things big things grow


Vestey man said "I'll double your wages

Seven quid a week you'll have in your hand"

Vincent said "Uhuh we're not talking about wages

We're sitting right here till we get our land"

Vestey man roared and Vestey man thundered

"You don't stand the chance of a cinder in snow!"

Vince said "If we fall others are rising


From little things big things grow

From little things big things grow


Then Vincent Lingiari boarded an airplane

Landed in Sydney, big city of lights

And daily he went round softly speaking his story

To all kinds of men from all walks of life

And Vincent sat down with big politicians

"This affair", they told him, "it's a matter of state

Let us sort it out, your people are hungry"

Vincent said "No thanks, we know how to wait"


From little things big things grow

From little things big things grow


Then Vincent Lingiari returned in an airplane

Back to his country once more to sit down

And he told his people "Let the stars keep on turning

We have friends in the south, in the cities and towns"

Eight years went by, eight long years of waiting

'Til one day a tall stranger appeared in the land

And he came with lawyers and he came with great ceremony

And through Vincent's fingers poured a handful of sand 


From little things big things grow

From little things big things grow


That was the story of Vincent Lingiari

But this is the story of something much more

How power and privilege cannot move a people

Who know where they stand and stand in the law


From little things big things grow

From little things big things grow


These songs are both ballads about the same event and yet their effect is quite different. Analyse the contrasts in these songs considering

  • their approach to telling the story
  • the treatment or meaning of ‘place’
  • their choice of language and syntax
  • the effect of the rhyme
  • their tone.

Now listen to

  • the Gurindji Blues
    Written in 1969 by Ted Egan and recorded then by Galarrwuy Yunupingu, this recording of the song sold 20,000 copies and it financed the tent embassy in Canberra for its first six months.
  • From Little Things Big Things Grow, first played in 1991.

 Ballads traditionally use tunes reminiscent of folk melodies.

  • How are audiences (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) positioned to be accepting of the message of these songs? Consider the balladic form, their tune and point of view.

[1] MyRead website:


Student activity 3: Class Parliament


The issue: which is the more effective as a protest song?



Watch the advertisement for Industry Superfunds

Note: Superannuation is the money you put away during your working life to ensure you have enough for your years of retirement. Your employer is obliged to pay an amount of money, broadly based on your salary to supplement these savings if you retire over a certain age.

Class discussion:




Student activity 4: creating


Your class is producing one episode of a television series called “Behind the Scene” in which iconic images from Australian history are fleshed out with the actions and motivations of people associated with the event.   

Your group will choose one of the following

Use the information you have gained from the texts above, develop a photomatic presentation (a series of stills presented in sequence with a voice over) to show how your section of the program could be shot and edited together.

 'Gough Whitlam pouring soil into the hands of traditional owner Vincent Lingiari', by Mervyn Bishop, Northern Territory, Australia, 1975
Acknowledgement of image: