The Barunga Statement and Agreement

2018 Barunga Festival by Ashley Blenkinsop
June 15, 2020
October 31, 2022
Last Updated
October 31, 2022
Written by
Rona Glynn-McDonald
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On 12 June 1988, the Barunga Statement was presented to Prime Minister Bob Hawke at the annual Barunga cultural and sporting festival.

The statement was written on bark and called for self-determination, a national system of land rights, compensation, an end to discrimination, respect for Aboriginal identity, and the granting of social, economic and cultural rights.

We, the Indigenous owners and occupiers of Australia, call on the Australian Government and people to recognise our rights.
— The Barunga Statement

The Prime Minister responded by expressing that he would create a treaty between Aboriginal people and wider Australia by 1990. This commitment has never been fulfilled.

Yothu Yindi wrote “Treaty”, an international music hit, to commemorate the Barunga Statement. 


Lead singer Mandawuy Yunupingu and his older brother Galarrwuy wanted to highlight the lack of progress on the treaty between Aboriginal peoples and the Federal Government. The lyrics said:

Bob Hawke visited the Territory. He went to this gathering in Barunga. And this is where he made a statement that there shall be a treaty between black and white Australia. Sitting around the camp fire, trying to work out a chord to the guitar, and around that camp fire, I said, "Well, I heard it on the radio. And I saw it on the television." That should be a catchphrase. And that's where 'Treaty' was born.
— Yothu Yindi
The Barunga Statement 1988, Parliament House Art Collection

The Barunga Statement

Presented to Prime Minister Bob Hawke by Galarrwuy Yunupingu and Wenten Rubuntja.

We, the Indigenous owners and occupiers of Australia, call on the Australian Government and people to recognise our rights:

to self-determination and self-management, including the freedom to pursue our own economic, social, religious and cultural development;

to permanent control and enjoyment of our ancestral lands;

to compensation for the loss of use of our lands, there having been no extinction of original title;

to protection of and control of access to our sacred sites, sacred objects, artefacts, designs, knowledge and works of art;

to the return of the remains of our ancestors for burial in accordance with our traditions;

to respect for and promotion of our Aboriginal identity, including the cultural, linguistic, religious and historical aspects, and including the right to be educated in our own languages and in our own culture and history;

in accordance with the universal declaration of human rights, the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, the international covenant on civil and political rights, and the international convention on :the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, rights to life, liberty, security of person, food, clothing, housing, medical care, education and employment opportunities, necessary social services and other basic rights.

We call on the Commonwealth to pass laws providing:

A national elected Aboriginal and Islander organisation to oversee Aboriginal and Islander affairs;

A national system of land rights;

A police and justice system which recognises our customary laws and frees us from discrimination and any activity which may threaten our identity or security, interfere with our freedom of expression or association, or otherwise prevent our full enjoyment and exercise of universally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms.

We call on the Australian Government to support Aborigines in the development of an international declaration of principles for indigenous rights, leading to an international covenant.

And we call on the Commonwealth Parliament to negotiate with us a Treaty recognising our prior ownership, continued occupation and sovereignty and affirming our human rights and freedom.

30 Years Later

2018 marks 30 years since the original Barunga Statement was presented. The bark statement now hangs in the walls of the Australian Parliament House, but its demands have not been answered.

The call for the Commonwealth Parliament to negotiate a national Treaty has not yet been realised. However, thirty years on, the Aboriginal Land Councils of the Northern Territory remain committed to the goals and aspirations described in the Barunga Statement.

At the 2018 Barunga Festival, the Barunga Agreement was signed on Jawoyn Country. This Agreement outlines a Memorandum of Understanding between Traditional Owners from the four Land Councils of the Northern Territory and the Northern Territory Government to work towards a treaty in the Northern Territory.

This is the beginning of a long journey to treaty in the Northern Territory, and while it is not a national effort, it is an important step forward.  

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