The Warumungu Land Claim
Land Rights News August 1994
The Land Claim was one of the longest and hardest-fought claims in the history of land rights.
The early white explorers described the Waramungu as a flourishing nation in the 1870s, but by 1915 the onslaught of invasion and reprisal had brought them to the brink of starvation.
The reserve that was set aside for the Waramungu in 1892 was revoked in 1934 to make way for gold prospectors and they were shunted to new reserves which were later also revoked, until by the 1960s, they were pushed of their traditional land altogether.
But the Waramungu would not give up. They made their first written application for land in 1975 when the Rockhampton Downs Aboriginal community asked for their land back so they could run their own affairs.
In 1978 the CLC lodged a claim under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act on behalf of the Waramungu. Their claim was one of longest and hardest fought in the history of the Act.
The Northern Territory tried to prevent the claim from proceeding by changing the status of the land under claim.
Land within town boundaries cannot be claimed, so in 1978 the Government enlarged the town boundaries of Tennant Creek to cover 750 square kilometres – the size of a major city.
Land which has been alienated – sold or leased – cannot be claimed, so in 1982 the Government Leased nine of the twelve areas under claim to Government-controlled corporation – a fact that they announced two days after the start of the hearing before Justice William Kearney in November 1982.
The resulting litigations went all the way to High Court and the hearing did not resume until March 1985 – this time before Aboriginal Land Commissioner Michael Maurice.
Maurice recommended the return of a large part of the claim in July 1988 – ten years after the claim was lodged.
It was another three years before any part of the land was handed back and five years before most was returned. Although the land had been recommended for grant the claimants were required to negotiate with other land users, such as Tennant Creek Town Council, pastoralists, businesses and the Northern Territory Government, to ensure their interests weren't adversely affected.