Land Rights News Central Australia: Land Rights News (September 2010)

Published: September, 2010

Above (L-R): Eastern Arrernte traditional owners Julius Bloomfield, Herbie Bloomfield, CLC Chairman Lindsay Bookie and Ronnie Webb

Buying back the farm - Huckitta

CLC Chairman Lindsay Bookie said that Eastern Arrernte people had tried to buy a station in the Dulcie Range area many times during the last 40 years.

“I first went to Alice Springs to talk about buying Jinka station 37 years ago. We kept trying and trying for that one.

“Then we tried for Huckitta, which was next door but we missed out all the way. We tried with DAA, ADC, ATSIC and ILC but this time finally we got lucky,” Mr Bookie said.

“Aboriginal people in the eastern part of Central Australia couldn’t claim much of their country under the Land Rights Act because most of it was under pastoral lease. You had to buy your country back first before claiming for Aboriginal title.”

Huckitta, the remnants of a large Kidman property of the same name, is more than 1600 square kilometres and is considered to be among the top five pastoral properties in Central Australia as it is largely drought resistant and has good water.

It adjoins the Dulcie Range National Park, which was excised from the station in 1988 but is now jointly-managed by the traditional owners with the NT Parks and Wildlife Service.

It is the first land acquisition for Aboriginal people in the CLC region in more than a decade and was funded by the ABA. The last purchase using ABA funds was Mt Wedge in 1995.

The ILC bought Ooratippra in 1999 but all subsequent efforts to address other unresolved land needs in Central Australia have either not gained sufficient support or been unsuccessful in purchase negotiations.

The CLC estimates approximately 250 traditional owners would benefit from the Huckitta purchase. They mostly live in the surrounding communities of Inelye, Atitjere, Bonya, and Irrerlirre (No. 5 Bore, MacDonald Downs) and Engawala and in the centres of Mount Isa, Santa Teresa, Amoonguna and Alice Springs, including  Charles Creek, Whitegate and other town camps.

There is an emerging ranger group at Atitjere whose viability will now be significantly strengthened through land management and pastoral project work on the station that they are well placed for.

There is also a lot of interest from Aboriginal people in the vicinity in a range of other opportunities it has to offer, including significant cultural tourism potential linked to the jointly-managed Dulcie Range National Park. People have been able to access the station reasonably easily over the years through positive relationships with previous lessees so cultural knowledge of the area is still strong.

Buying Huckitta has been a long haul for the traditional owners. In August 1973 Lindsay Bookie, acting as a regional spokesperson, made a request to a meeting of the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee in Alice Springs for assistance to purchase Jinka station, previously part of the  original Huckitta station.

Ten years later they tried to buy it again.

This time it was brought to the attention of the regional director of the former Aboriginal Development Commission (ADC) in a letter from former FACHSIA executive Brian Stacey who was DAA’s eastern area officer at the time.
He established that a large number of people could benefit from its purchase and urged the ADC “to investigate the possibility of purchasing Jinka as soon as possible”.

This triggered a funding commitment by ADC and negotiations over a long period in the 1980s with the lessee Johnny Turner. Despite the involvement of high profile figures such as Charles Perkins, Pat Turner and the current ILC Chairperson, Shirley McPherson, the negotiations were unsuccessful.

In 1992, traditional owners hand delivered a letter to the CLC asking for help to purchase Huckitta itself. The CLC was eventually successful with a submission to ATSIC but the price had now shot up above valuation. Nearly another decade passed and an application by the traditional owners to the ILC failed to gain consideration by the ILC Board in time to participate in the 2001 auction.

Through direct discussions between the CLC and the lessee the property again became available for purchase in 2008 but sufficient interest could not be established at the time with funding sources to pursue the opportunity seriously.

Although the property was placed on the open market in 2009 it failed to sell, largely due to the impacts of prolonged drought conditions. The CLC resumed direct negotiations with the lessee in early 2010.

A submission made to the ABA for funds to purchase the pastoral lease was approved by the Advisory Committee in April.

After receiving ministerial approval in June the sale finally settled on the 6th of August 2010.