Frank Purcell OA, Roy Marika MBE, Justice Sir Edward Woodward AC, OBE, QC and Dr Galarrwuy Yunupingu OA at Yirrkala, on the Gove Peninsula on Yolŋu Country in Northeast Arnhem Land, Northern Territory – circa 1971.
Lecture theatre G08
This image shows solicitor Frank Purcell, Rirratjingu Elder Roy Marika, barrister (and later, Judge of the Federal Court, and Chancellor of the University of Melbourne) Sir Edward Woodward, and interpreter and Gumatj clan member (now Elder) Galarrwuy Yunupingu at Yirrkala in Northeast Arnhem Land. The exact date of the photograph is unknown, but it is probable that it was taken in 1971, during or shortly after the conclusion of proceedings in Milirrpum & Ors v Nabalco Pty Ltd and the Commonwealth of Australia (1971) 17 FLR 141. In the case, Yolŋu elders from the Rirratjingu, Gumatj and Djapu clans obtained writs in the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory seeking declarations regarding their sovereign rights to Country on the Gove Peninsula. The Commonwealth had granted a twelve-year bauxite mining lease to Nabalco Corporation, which the plaintiffs contested. The suit came after formal Yolŋu diplomatic and political assertions of land rights – including the Yirrkala Bark Petitions in 1963 – but this was the first time that Elders brought Yolŋu law and sought direct engagement with Anglo-Australian law on mutually lawful terms. The case was ultimately decided for the defendants. In 1971, Australian courts were still bound by the Privy Council, in England, and there was precedent that foreclosed just recognition of Indigenous ownership of land, prior to 1788, and continuing afterwards. Justice Blackburn of the Northern Territory Supreme Court, however, explicitly recognised in his judgment the existence and systemic practice of Yolŋu law. The action laid legal and political ground for the Whitlam Labor Government to convene the Aboriginal Land Rights Commission in 1974, and Woodward, who had been the barrister for the Yolŋu, was appointed as the Commissioner. A key recommendation was the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, which due to the failure of the common law, was a necessary legislative prerequisite to the progress of Aboriginal campaigns for sovereign land rights in the Northern Territory in the decades that followed. In 1986, the Australia Acts were passed in the UK and in Australia. One consequence was that no court in Australia was bound by the Privy Council any longer, and the High Court of Australia became Australia’s apex court. By 1992, The High Court of Australia had overturned the precedent that failed to recognise native title as part of the common law of Australia, in the case of Mabo v Queensland (No 2) (1992) 175 CLR 1 .
In lecture theatre 102, a large-scale mural of Mabo Plaintiffs and witness with their Lawyer, Supreme Court of Queensland, May 1989 depicts the plaintiffs is installed.
Photo courtesy of Library & Archives NT
Location of MLS Classroom Photo Murals
In lecture theatre G08, a large-scale mural of Frank Purcell OA, Roy Marika MBE, Justice Sir Edward Woodward AC, OBE, QC and Dr Galarrwuy Yunupingu OA at Yirrkala, on the Gove Peninsula on Yolŋu Country in Northeast Arnhem Land, Northern Territory – circa 1971, is installed.