The government will allege that signs detailing the significance of the site and a historic windmill and fence were demolished at some point last year, as well as a large solar panel system and fences blocking access to the area.
The route marks the track that Vincent Lingiari took with 200 stockmen and their families when they walked off Wave Hill Station in 1966, protesting years of exploitation, low wages, horrendous living conditions and, at a broader level, the dispossession of their traditional lands.
The walk-off was one of the longest strikes in history, spanning almost a decade, and a seminal moment that paved the way for Aboriginal land rights in Australia.
More than 1,000 people travel from across the country to the region each year to recreate the walk.
Wave Hill Station, a 1.25 million hectare property 750 kilometres south of Darwin, was bought by Jumbuck Pastoral’s silent backers, former AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan and the billionaire family behind the Reece plumbing empire in 2021.
The National Heritage listed site spans about 20 kilometres, starting from Wave Hill Station, where the Gurindji stockmen began their protest, and ending at Daguragu – the Aboriginal community where then prime minister Gough Whitlam ceremonially poured red soil into Vincent Lingiari’s hand.
It’s believed the fence line they followed was included in the damage.
The Department of Territory Families, Housing and Communities told ABC Breakfast Darwin on Tuesday morning it was investigating the matter, following allegations of damage to the site in September last year.
However it has not named the person or people it alleges were responsible.
In January 1993, the site of the Wave Hill walk-off was nominated for heritage listing under the then Heritage Conservation Act (NT).
In 2007, the route was declared a National Heritage Listed site by then minister for the environment and water resources, Malcolm Turnbull.
A NT government spokesperson said that “charges are expected to be laid this week” under the Heritage Act.
“The Gurindji Wave Hill Walk-Off Route is of national significance and important to the history and heritage of the Northern Territory and our Traditional Owners,” the spokesperson said.
“We are committed to ensuring the preservation and integrity of all Heritage-listed sites across the Northern Territory.”
Chief Minister Eva Lawler at a press conference on Tuesday said while it was a matter for the courts and she couldn’t comment further, heritage sites “should absolutely be maintained”.
“We all clearly understand and know the importance of the Gurindji track to the Gurindji people … to Territorians and Australians,” she said.