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Simpson Desert to Eastern Arernte

November 1994

Land Rights News Vol 2, No 34 November 1994 North and North West Simpson Desert Land Claim Claim lodged: 1980 Recommended for grant: Sept 1991 (NW) and Sept 1992 (North) Title handback: 19 August 1994 Total area: 23,000 square km

Eastern Arrernte people celebrated the return of title to their traditional lands in the North and North West Simpson Desert on 19 August when some 23,000 square kilometres of land was handed back by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Minister Robert Tickner.

A ceremony was held at Akarnenhe Well (pronounced A-karn-ah-nah) about 250 kilometres east of Alice Springs.

Around 180 people were at the handover ceremony including many traditional owners who travelled long distances. An enormous cake was made for the celebration. Eastern Arrernte people have been waiting for the return of their land since 1980 when the original claim for the area was first lodged. This was the first major piece of Eastern Arrernte land handed back to them. "Eastern Arrernte people were subjected to typically horrific Government regulations since first contact with Europeans," CLC Director Tracker Tilmouth said.

"The South Australian Parliament passed laws to remove and pacify any Aboriginal people likely to impede European expansion. Pastoralists and Miners moved quickly and by the lat 1800s lease applications covered much of the Eastern Arrernte's land."

"The handover of title to the traditional owners shows that the Land Rights Act is able to benefit our people who have been dispossessed of their lands."

Mr Tilmouth said most of the land handed back is vacant Crown land however, there is a 4,000 square kilometre area included called Apiwentye (pronounced A-pair-in-ya) Station which has been owned and successfully operated by Aboriginal people since 1989.

Apiwentye was formerly called Atula Stn. "Many of the traditional owners returned from a number of areas including Mount Isa and Alice Springs for the handover ceremony," Mr Tilmouth said.

"This is yet another example of the forced dispossession of our people. Elders are only now able to return to the lands of their grandmothers and grandfathers after such long periods away."

Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Robert Tickner described the area as harsh by the standards of most Australians, but it was of enormous significance to the Eastern Arrernte, who were among the most dispossessed Aboriginal people of the NT.

He said despite the dispossession, the Eastern Arrernte had maintained cultural links with the area throughout the period. The claim covers two areas: The North Simpson Desert (17,700 square km) and the North West Simpson Desert (5,250 square km).