Cummeragunja Station was established in 1888 on the NSW side along the Murray River on Yorta Yorta/Bangerang Country. Cummeragunja became home to many Aboriginal people.
Many of the residents in Cummeragunja had relocated there from Maloga Mission which was about 5km away. Maloga Mission was started by a missionary and after a while many of the residents grew tired of the strict religious lifestyle and treatment. They petitioned the Governor at the time to grant them land and 2 years later the land for Cummeragunja had been reserved.
Cummeragunja became a productive farm, producing wheat, wool and some dairy products. The residents led a lot of this work with the aim of self-sufficiency however in 1915 the NSW Aboriginal Protection Board gained more control over the Station disbanding its committees and confining the residents to more restrictive conditions.
As a result of the change in management, life at Cummeragunja changed drastically. Those who worked were given inadequate and unhealthy rations, children were removed and forced into domestic work and any funds raised went straight to the Board. By the 1930’s conditions had deteriorated and illnesses like tuberculosis were sweeping through the station.
In 1939 the residents decided to take a stand and the first mass strike of Aboriginal people occurred.
The video above is set to start at the 14-minute mark where it discusses the Cummeragunja mission and the events that led to the walk off.
The Walk Off
On the 4th of February in 1939, an estimated 200 residents of Cummeragunja Station walked out of the station in a strike to protest the horrible living conditions and the governments control of the station they had set up.
Many of the residents feared the current station manager Arthur McQuiggan and so they called on former resident Uncle Jack Patten to return and help them. When he returned, he spoke to many of the residents, informing them of the government’s plans to continue to remove their children and explained what their rights were.
On the day of the walk off Uncle Jack Patten was arrested for ‘inciting Aborigines’ and removed from the station. Following his arrest, the residents grabbed their belongings and walked off the station in a mass strike.
Many of those who walked off crossed the Murray River into Victoria, settling in towns like Barmah, Echuca and Mooroopna while others continued down towards the city.
Remembering the 80th anniversary of the Cummeragunja walk off. Image source: Twitter David McGinniss.
As one of the first Indigenous mass protests in our history the Cummeragunja Walk Off inspired action across the country for years to come and ignited a movement that fought for the rights of the Aboriginal community.
“This early action by the Yorta Yorta people has really contributed to the progress that was made in Australia towards understanding and valuing Aboriginal culture and people” - Deborah Cheetham AO
Every year families return to the station to commemorate the walk off, often walking a part of the trail together as they reflect on its history.