Barrow Creek

July 1999

Land Rights News July 1999 The Aboriginal Land Commissioner, Justice Olney, was shown the birthplace of the Kaytetye language and culture by traditional owners at a land claim hearing at Barrow Creek, 280 kilometres north of Alice Springs.

More than 30 claimants took part in the hearing and showed Justice Olney many other sacred sites in the area.

The claim covers a little more than 12.5 square kilometres of land around the Barrow Creek area. The land was in the past a reservation for the Barrow Creek Telegraph Station.

The old racecourse, the Thangkenharenge Resource Centre and the old Telegraph Station are included in the area claimed but not the hotel at Barrow Creek. Traditional owners still live on the claim area, despite a lack of housing and public facilities and the Stuart Highway running through the middle of their country.

Claimants said they would remain there and build houses if the land claim was successful. Secure title under the Land Rights Act would enable claimants to get funding for houses and essential services.

Many Kaytetye people living in other areas will be able to visit Barrow Creek more often, or live there, if housing, electricity and others services are more readily available.The Barrow Creek Telegraph Station, built in 1872, had a profound impact on the Kaytetye.

Virtually overnight they were confronted with a new human presence in their lives, new animals like goats and cows, and new technology such as the telegraph line strung across the country.

A Kaytetye man used to tell the story of an old man who told him about first encountering the ''singing wires' of the telegraph line.

The old man told of listening to the humming wires, and, thinking that bees were alerting him to honey, or 'sugarbag' inside the poles. When he chopped down the pole, he found iron inside instead, which he said, made an exceptional tomahawk.

The presence of a permanent settlement and large numbers of stock put heavy pressures on Kaytetye resources and in 1874 a police officer was stationed at Barrow Creek to prevent cattle killing.

A week later one of the most tragic events in the history of the region began. During the evening of 22 February 1874, a number of Aboriginal men descended from the hill behind the Telegraph Station and fatally speared the Station Master and a linesman.

The Kaytetye say the attack was in response to the theft of their land and the exploitation of the women by the new settlers. Reprisal was swift and severe and many innocent Aboriginal people were killed in the months following the event.

It is expected that the Report from the Aboriginal Land Commissioner Mr Justice Olney will take some months.