Mt Barkly Land Claim

March 1987

Land Rights News Vol 2, No 2 March 1987 Claim lodged: 12 July 1981 Title dated: 24.07.85 Area of claim: 2,590 sq km No. of claimants: 352

The Mt Barkly claim was the first time in the history of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act (1976) that Aboriginal people had laid claim to a pastoral lease which they had purchased themselves.

Mt Barkly is 360 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs, covering an area of 2,589.98 square kilometres and borders Willowra Station. (Freehold title to Willowra was recently handed over by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs following a successful claim to the land by the Lander Warlpiri/Anmatjirra traditional owners in 1980).

The area covered by the lease is of great religious significance and economic importance to the people of Mt Barkly and Willowra, and to their relatives in the neighbouring communities of Ti-Tree, Anningie, Mount Allan, Yuendumu, Ali-Curung, and Lajamanu.

The people from these communities regularly perform ceremonies connected with sites at Mt Barkly.

It is land which they have traditionally owned for thousands of years - land which during the last 60 years was stolen from them and upon which artificial boundaries were placed. White pastoralists then ran cattle over the country and exploited Aboriginal labour to build stations.

It has been a long-standing concern of the people to re-acquire the property and obtain security of title under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act so that their children and their children's children can live there as they wish. MASSACRE In 1928 conflict over the use of land and water between whites and Aboriginals culminated in what is known today as the "Coniston Massacre" - a tragic event which caused the death of many relations of the Mt Barkly claimants.

After the massacres many of the survivors fled the area, and did not return for many years. A small group of people found refuge in the outlying areas of Mt Barkly and Willowra. More whitemen were to settle the Mt Barkly area as pastoralists, and the traditional owners were employed as stockmen, contributing to the establishment of the station.

The Mt Barkly lease was purchased by the Aboriginal-owned Willowra Pastoral Company early in 1981 with its own resources, and without assistance from any Government organisation.

A feasibility study by the Aboriginal Development Commission found that Mt Barkly had marginal viability as a cattle property, and that any cattle operations should be developed and operated as a single enterprise with Willowra station.

While it is planned to run cattle there, the principal motivation in acquiring the property was to enable the traditional owners to have free access to their country for hunting, gathering, site maintenance and other economic, social and religious activities which are essential to their life.

Warlpiri land ownership is fundamentally a religious relationship between people and land. It is these religious links that give certain rights, such as the use of the economic resources of the area, and certain responsibilities, such as looking after the country through performing ritual.

During the claim, the Northern Territory Government did not challenge the people's traditional ownership of Mt Barkly. Taking the evidence of the male traditional owners began by visiting a site with the Land Commissioner.

Female traditional owners then performed ceremonies for Pawu (Mt Barkly) and Ngarnka (Mt Leichhardt). For two days at Willowra the claimants told of their deep spiritual relationships to the land.

They talked of the dreamings for the countries of Pawu, Patirlirri, Ngarnka, Ngarnalkurra and Yarruku.

The people at Willowra (and other places where the traditional owners of Mt Barkly reside) have maintained a cultural continuity in the discharging of their responsibilities to land in and around Mt Barkly.