Warlpiri, Kukatja and Ngarti Land Claim

March 1987

Land Rights News Vol 2, No 2, March 1987

Claim lodged: 21 August 1980
Title dated: 23 August 1985
Area of claim: 2,340 sq km
Number of claimants: 90
The Warlpiri, Kakatja and Ngarti Land Claim was the 11th traditional land claim presented on behalf of Aboriginal traditional owners by the Central Land Council, under the Aboriginal land Rights (NT) Act. In all land claims the presentation of case before the Aboriginal Land Commissioner is the outcome of a long process of research and consultation with the Aboriginal traditional owners concerned.

The claim was presented to Justice Sir William Kearney at the Balgo Hills Mission and final addressed took place in Alice Springs.

It was the first time a hearing for a traditional land claim had taken place in Western Australia and the Mission made every effort to facilitate the conduct of the hearing.

The claim was to an area of approximately 2,000 square kilometres, bounded on the north by the southern boundary of the Mongrel Downs pastoral lease, on the east by a line extending south from the station's eastern border, on the west by the Western Australia border and on the south by the Warlpiri Land Trust area.

Traditional Aboriginal title in fact exceeds this rectangle of land, which lies within a larger Aboriginal estate extending far into the Mongrel Downs pastoral lease.

Because of the small area involved and the artificial nature of the claim boundaries, and because of its setting in a frequently harsh environment, evidence was heard from but one local descent group of claimants.

This group is defined by a limited set of ancestors and its members refer to themselves as one family, the 'Mongrel Downs mob' or the people from Munkururrpa.

Linguistically, the tradition owners describe the claim area as "mix-up" as it borders on areas in which Ngarti, Warlpiri, and Kukatja each have primacy as the language of daily life.

This linguistic diversity has obviously been influenced by current residence in communities at Balgo and Lajamanu, but has also resulted from marriage proscribed with persons from within one's own country, leading to bilingual alliances and multiple residence preceding the relocation to settlements. Dreaming The evidence of the claimants indicated that the major dreaming for their country is the Wirntiki (stone curlew) dreaming.

It is through this dreaming that they have common spiritual affiliation to sacred sites on the claim area.

The public nature of the claim inhibited some discussions about sacred material and decisions were made about the level of information to be imparted during the hearing and whether or note to display sacred objects.

However, the Land Commissioner had the privilege of having songs about the Wirntiki sung to him by the claimants on their own country, and its ceremonial importance demonstrated through the performance eof a dance for one of the Wirntiki sites.

At the specific request of the claimants further details of the Wirntiki dreaming were provided at a restricted hearing on the claim area.

The strength of attachment of traditional owners to their country obviously continues unabated despite their unfortunate history dispersal.

The advantages and benefits accruing from the grant of this land are impossible for Europeans to qualify but success in this claim now means security and autonomy for some 150 people, as they finally have control over the country where their ancestors lived and died.