Claim settlement speeds return of title

April 1995

Land Rights News Vol 2 No 35 April 1995 Warlmanpa, Warlpiri, Mudbura and Warumunga Land Claim Claim Lodged: 1978 Returned: 25 November 1994 Area returned: 1,175 sq km

The return of 1175 square kilometres of land in the far northern reaches of the Tanami desert last November has finally concluded the 16 year struggle of the Mudbura and Warlpiri traditional landowners for their land. Title to the land was handed to the Wampana-Karlantijpa Land Trust at a ceremony at Dagaragu on 25 November, 1994.

The area, bordering Cattle Creek station in the Wave Hill region, lies about 300 km north west of Tennant Creek.

It lies close to the area where Gurindji people led the historic "walk-off" from Wave Hill station to Dagaragu, helping to ignite the land rights movement and win national recognition for their struggle for the land. Wampana (hare wallaby) dreaming, passes through the claim area.

The claim was first lodged in 1978 as part of a much larger claim over land traditionally owned by Warlmanpa, Warlpiri, Mudbura and Warumungu people. Hearing of the Warlmanpa, Warlpiri, Mudbura and Warumungu Land Claim began in 1980, but the area was not recommended for grant by the then Land Commissioner, Mr Justice Toohey, due to the lack of key evidence from a senior traditional landowner who was absent from the hearing. However after further research, a repeat land claim was accepted and scheduled for hearing in September 1993.

A week before the hearing was due to be heard, the Northern Territory Government made an offer to settle the claim, proposing that the Commonwealth Government 'schedule' the claim area under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act.

Settlement of the claim in this way sped the return of title and spared the claimants and the Central Land Council the considerable work and expense of conducting claim hearings.

A condition of the settlement offer was that detriment issues affecting neighbouring Cattle Creek station would be resolved.

An amicable settlement with station management permitted Cattle Creek to retain fencing and cattle grazing on part of the claim area in return for fencing and protecting a sacred site from cattle damage. Traditional landowners were also involved in a 'sacred sites clearance program' to ensure that sacred sites would not be damaged during construction of new fencing on the station.

At the title handover ceremony, senior claimant Engineer Jack welcomed the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs in language and spoke of the long struggle to win back land through the land claim process. The smooth resolution of the land claim was welcomed by both the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Mr Robert Tickner, and Central Land Council Director Tracker Tilmouth.

"It's been pleasing that the Northern Territory Government decided to settle with this claim. It makes our life a bit easier. People like this mob have been waiting for their country to come back for years, and struggling, battling," Mr Tilmouth said.

However Mr Tilmouth pointed out that getting land back is only the first step, and that a further struggle for funds and resources lies ahead of the traditional landowners wanting to return to live on their country.

"It's a bit hard getting back country if you don't have the resources to go back to it; to build up outstations if you don't have housing and water."

"You people are old now, you've got kids following up and you're going to have to go back and show them the country, live on the outstations, and you can't do that without proper resources," Mr Tilmouth said.

Northern Territory MHR Warren Snowdon sent messages of congratulations on the 'very special occasion' of the title ceremony. "I understand that it's been a very long time coming, but at last you have some reward for your hard work and years of struggle.

On occasions like this none of us should ever forget that it's the Land Rights Act which allows you to pursue your rightful claims to land and without it, it would be even harder for Aboriginal people who have been unjustly deprived of their land to achieve justice."

In congratulating the traditional landowners, Mr Tickner commended those who had struggled so hard and long for their land as "real Aboriginal heroes."

"They are people who have done so much over a very long period of time to keep the culture strong, and to be able finally to win I think is a great tribute to everyone here. It is wonderful that groups of people have come together to work for the land."

Recalling the historic associations of the site of the title ceremony with the early land rights movement, Mr Tickner said, "It is all so very recent. When you think Aboriginal occupation of the land going back 40,000 years and you think non-Aboriginal people have only passed through here in the last 130 years, you know it's a speck in time in history." "It is a just outcome that the land is now returned to the traditional owners," Mr Tickner said.

Mr Tickner congratulated the Central Land Council for "its strength and support for the claims of the people." "I pay deepest respect to the people who have worked so hard to get the land back."