Mt Frederick repeat claim won

October 1995

Land Rights News Vol 2, No 37 October 1995 Western Desert (South) Repeat Land Claim Lodged: 1980 Title Returned: 8 Sept 1995 Area returned: 2350 sq kms

The handover of title to 2350 sq kilometres of land in the remote Tanami Desert near the Western Australian border will benefit more than 180 traditional owners form three different language groups.

The titles were handed back to the Mt Frederick (No 2) Land Trust by the Commonwealth Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Robert Tickner, at the ceremony on Mangkururrpa Aboriginal Land Trust, formerly Tanami Downs, just south of the claim area.

Despite its remoteness, the area is culturally diverse, in part because of its extraordinary sometimes violent history over the past 100 years.

Pastoral and gold mining activities have had an enormous impact on the lives of the people in the region since the first European settlement in 1880s. Government Residence reports, European biographies, local histories, Aboriginal oral traditions and the personal experience of the claimants all attest to the brutality and fear perpetrated on the Aboriginal people in the region.

By 1944 the decline of the number of Aboriginal people on stations prompted the Vestey's Group to initiate a plan to settle Aboriginal people on stations to provide a permanent labour force for their network of cattle properties in the north west.

The station labour recruitment plan included the claim area and the older claimants have a host of stories about working for the frequently brutal station managers, about cattle killing, goat stealing, being arrested and seeing relatives shot.

Many were moved from the claim area during this era. Although the claim was first lodged as part of the Western Desert Land Claim in 1980, research for the claim was difficult because of poor access to the claim area for claimants and researchers.

It was not until Tanami downs was acquired by Aboriginal people and mining companies had graded better roads through the area, that access became easier and the Central Land Council was able to gain more knowledge of traditional ownership of the area.

A repeat claim was lodged and was accepted by the Aboriginal Land Commissioner in September 1994 and an offer to settle the claim was made by the Northern Territory Government late last year.

Mr Tickner said "Of major importance is the fact that the speedy resolution of these claims will allow the handovers of title to take place while elderly traditional owners are still alive." The Tanami and Granites gold mines are both close and much of the area is already covered by exploration licences. A mineral exploration agreement between leading goldminer North Flinders Mines and the traditional landowners has already been signed under the provisions of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, in anticipation of the land being returned under Aboriginal Freehold title.

The agreement guarantees protection for sacred sites and employment opportunities for Aboriginal people, should the company decide that mining is viable in the area. The Director of the CLC Tracker Tilmouth said that the agreement was the first of its type signed by the CLC, since at that stage the land was still under claim, but certainly for both sides had been attained in anticipation of the claim being granted.

Mr Tilmouth said "Aboriginal people are not averse to mining but the are concerned about the protection of their sacred sites. This agreement, signed under Section 48A of the Land Rights Act, gives both the traditional owners and the mining company certainty for the future."