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From the days of whips and guns now we have our land back

October 1992

Land Rights News Wakaya-Alyawarre Land Claim Claim lodged: 1980 Recommended for grant: May 1990 Title Handback: 22 October 1992 Area returned to Wakaya: 1874 sq km Area returned to Alyawarre: 2065 sq km

On 22 October, the Governor General, Hon Bill Hayden, visited Wakaya traditional land in the Northern Territory to deliver land titles to the Wakaya and Alyawarre people. It was the first time Mr Hayden had personally officiated at a title handback ceremony, and only the second time a Governor General has done so, the last being the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Handback in 1985.

The remote outstation at Purrukwarra was crowded with hundreds of visitors. Traditional landowners and their families, some coming from Queensland, official parties, dignitaries, their staff and media crews streamed in for the ceremony.

The Governor General returned European title to two areas which were originally part of the Wakaya-Alyawarre Land Claim.

The Governor General's decision to return the deeds in person was welcomed by CLC Director, Kumanjayi Ross as an important symbolic gesture and a welcome indication of the Federal government's willingness to recognise the importance of meeting Aboriginal land needs.

However, he said it was very important to remember the struggle of people who can't claim their traditional country because it lies on pastoral land.

"Thousands of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory are still dispossessed and suffering the consequences of being unable to get a secure place to love," he said.

Speaking at the title ceremony, the Governor General referred to the vital importance of land to the economic and cultural survival of Aboriginal people.

"The Aboriginal culture is very rich, as it explains the reasons of creation, existence and reasons of living for the Aboriginal people," he said.

The return of the title deeds ends a twelve year struggle by the traditional landowners to see the return of a small part of their country. Unfortunately, a significant part of the claim area was not recommended.

The title ceremony also saw the return of title to an 8 sq km "red area" at Wycliffe Well on the old North South Stock Route.

The title was accepted from the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs by Nugget Junerayi on behalf of the Ilyarne Aboriginal Land Trust.

After a lifetime of stockwork on Alroy Down, Nugget retired to Camooweal in Queensland where he now lives. the return of this tiny area will give the traditional landowners the opportunity to live on their land for the first time.

Following a family bereavement, Purrukwarra outstation had been unoccupied for some months. The title handback ceremony marked the end of 'sorry business' and the return of the family to the outstation.

The Alyawarre were protected from the first great waves of pastoral expansion last century by the Wakaya desert north of their country. They felt the harsh impact of non-Aboriginal invasion much later than the Walaya.

But by the 1920s Aboriginal people had been hunted away from their waterholes "with whips and guns" by pastoralists wanting the water for stock. Police Station waterhole on nearby Kurundi station was the launching point for police raids and reprisal parties against local Aboriginal people. Survivors took up stockwork on stations in the region, but conditions were so harsh that many fled the violence and brutality of the pastoral employers of the era.

Like the Wakaya they moved towards Queensland where more protective, but extremely restrictive laws were in place. Some of the Alyawarre remained in the Hatches Creek area, where wolfram was mined up until the post World War II era. Many of the older people still have vivid memories of their harsh experiences in the 'frontier' mining town.

Although the infrastructure is not yet in place, the traditional landowners are already moving back onto outstations on their country, despite the adverse conditions of no permanent water or shelter.