“Getting back country, looking after country and getting control of the future...”

Kimberley Land Council Chairman Anthony Watson

Kimberley Land Council Chairman Anthony Watson

Anthony Watson welcomes delegates to National Native Title Conference

Marboo Ngimbi, Good morning everyone, 

What a privilege it is to welcome you here today to the 2018 National Native Title Conference. 

I’d like to acknowledge the Yawuru people, the Traditional Owners of this country and for hosting us this week. 

I pay my respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders gathered here today, their culture, and to the Elders both past and present. 

I acknowledge the Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion and Senator Patrick Dodson. 

Thank you to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies for your tireless work staging this event, and for selecting the Kimberley Land Council as the co-convenor in our 40th anniversary year. 

I also acknowledge the Shire of Broome, many local businesses and the local community, who have all supported us in making this event a reality. 

My name is Anthony Watson. I am the Chairman of the Kimberley Land Council, the peak Aboriginal organisation in the region and the native title representative body for the Kimberley. 

I am a Nyikina Mangala, Karajarri, Yawuru and Jabirr Jabirr man. I grew up in the Kimberley and have lived all of my life in the Kimberley. 

The National Native Title Conference is an opportunity for all our mob across the country, to get together and talk about our native title rights. 

Rights to land, rights to freshwater, rights to saltwater, our cultural rights and our own human rights. 

We know that there is much to think and talk about, especially as we make the transition from pre native title to a post native title determination era. 

Events like this conference allow us all to walk this path together, to learn from each other, to share our success and our experience for the benefit of all our people. 

We are gathered here with the theme – many laws, one land – in mind. 

I’ve been thinking about what this means to me, the Kimberley Land Council and all of us here today. 

For me, as an Aboriginal man, it is an understanding that I am always living my life according to many different laws. I am guided culturally through laws related to my family, relationships, food gathering, my connection to country, my blood and my skin. 

I also live according to the whitefella law, the State laws and the Commonwealth laws. While these laws don’t always mix, they do present opportunities for understanding, learning and progress. 

For the Kimberley Land Council, this theme is about showing our government and the wider Australian community why our traditional laws, our culture and our heritage should be respected and valued just as much as the laws that came when the white man arrived. 

It’s about the respect of native title and the rights these laws give us as landholders in this country. 

For all of us here today I believe this theme is about working together to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

When I reflect on this theme I also think about my organisation, the Kimberley Land Council, and how it came to be. 

It was in 1978 that Kimberley Aboriginal people came together at Noonkanbah to discuss how they could make their many voices be heard. 

Noonkanbah soon became the site of a land rights dispute that was felt all across Australia. 

Kimberley Aboriginal people decided that no means no and they didn’t want miners destroying their sacred sites. 

But American mining company AMAX and the Western Australian government were determined to see mining go through. 

I was only a boy – about seven years old – when this drama unfolded. My dad, John Watson, was there. 

He marched with the people, he blocked the road and he was one of those arrested and carted away to Fitzroy Crossing. 

He told me not to come that day. He told me to stay at home because he was scared of what would happen. 

He had to break the white fella law to help protect traditional law. 

Although the mining company went onto drill for oil – they found nothing and this event was a turning point for land rights and the way Australians felt about justice for Aboriginal people. 

I grew up in the Kimberley Land Council and I am very proud to stand here before you as Chairman. 

Since those days at Noonkanbah, the land council has achieved much. 

Long before native title, we were there for Kimberley Aboriginal people. We campaigned, we fought, we stood up and we spoke loudly to make ourselves counted. 

When the Western Australian Government decided it didn’t want to recognise native title we took them to the High Court and we won. 

The Yirra and Crocodile Hole reports resulted in strong messages to government and a roadmap for economic development in the Kimberley. 

We succeeded in the West Kimberley national heritage listing. We stopped the State Government from closing our communities. 

We’ve fought hard for our Indigenous Protected Areas and rangers – real jobs looking after country and culture. 

We have gone to the United Nations to show the world just how much Aboriginal people in Australia are leading the way, especially when it comes to conservation and fire. 

We have led discussions around Constitutional reform and pushed for meaningful recognition of First Nations peoples. 

The Kimberley region, I am proud to say, is now 80 per cent native title determined. We remain committed to getting back country, looking after country and getting control of our future. 

But as much as the Kimberley Land Council is my story – it is a story for us all. 

I stand here today knowing all of you work hard for the betterment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

We are all part of a movement. 

A movement that sees Aboriginal heritage and culture as Australian culture and paramount to the future success of our people and our nation. 

We must all work together to co-design a way forward that challenges the policies, structures and systems that result in the status quo. 

The Australian community, the Commonwealth and the State must truly get behind Indigenous co-designed solutions. 

They must work with us and truly value our contribution. 

Native title must be seen as an opportunity, not a barrier. 

We must not only be at the table but equal at the table. 

We must have free, prior and informed consent in relation to any development on our lands. 

I am proud to be descended of a people who have survived and endured since colonisation. 

I am proud to be a part of the Kimberley Land Council on its 40th anniversary, continuing to walk the long road to justice. 

And I am proud to be here with you all by my side, standing as one for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights. 

Thank you,