Wik vs Queensland

Wik vs Queensland (Dean Gibson, 2018, 84 minutes) is a documentary record of the Wik people’s involvement in and responses to the Commonwealth High Court decision granting Native Title in the Wik land rights case in 1996, and the subsequent Commonwealth legislation to dilute that decision.

On December 23, 1996, the High Court of Australia granted co-existence rights between the Wik People, pastoralists and mining companies in the landmark case Wik Peoples vs The State of Queensland. This nationally significant decision caused rumbles through the country, shaking up politics, dividing Aboriginal leaders and causing a national media frenzy.

Behind the case, a young Noel Pearson worked closely with the elders and custodians of the Wik Nations of Cape York, far north Queensland to lay legal claim over native title access for the group of first nations located in the Cape York Peninsula. Their case was built around the wonderfully rich and insightful document known as the AAK, containing Wik lore, their sites, history, land, waters and their intimate and intrinsic connection to country.

Post Mabo, the result in favour of the Wik claim by the High Court led to one of the biggest debates in Australian history as conservative commentators raised fears about perceived threats to ‘suburban backyards’ from native title claims. But no-one asked the Wik people what they felt, until now.

Looking back on this crucial moment in history, much can be learned from the Wik decision and the way that Australia chose to acknowledge, understand and respect Aboriginal people. Even today, at the heart of the issue, is the continued systematic failure of successive Governments to deliver to Aboriginal Australia.

December 23, 1996, should have been a time for celebration for the Wik people, Noel Pearson and many of the other key players in this victory. Instead, they were branded greedy and treated as the enemy. Nearly a quarter of a century on, Wik vs Queensland takes us inside the High Court’s decision and subsequent events through the eyes of Wik traditional owners, and our nation’s political, judicial and Aboriginal leaders. With unique access to never before seen archive footage Wik vs Queensland transports the audience back to this momentous period of our nation’s history and the currency it still holds today.

Curriculum applicability

Wik vs Queensland is suitable for use with senior secondary students (years 9-12) in:

  • Australian History (colonial history, Aboriginal rights),
  • Legal Studies and Civics and Citizenship (courts, legislation and Aboriginal land rights).

The film will help students address these issues:

  • Indigenous people before colonial contact
  • The role of land in Indigenous culture
  • Colonial changes to Indigenous land and activities
  • The imposition of British laws on Indigenous people
  • The role of courts and governments in Indigenous land rights
  • The role of Indigenous people in pursuing land rights