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

Members of the Ngarrawanji Applicant (from back left) Josie Sarah, Jennifer Tait, Greg Tait, Josie Farrer, Mark Bin Baker, Marty Stevens (front left) Phyllis Wallaby, Justice Mortimer and Matt Dawson.

Members of the Ngarrawanji Applicant (from back left) Josie Sarah, Jennifer Tait, Greg Tait, Josie Farrer, Mark Bin Baker, Marty Stevens (front left) Phyllis Wallaby, Justice Mortimer and Matt Dawson.

Historic week of three Kimberley native title determinations

The Federal Court of Australia is set to determine three separate native title claims in the Kimberley this week.

It’s the first time multiple claims have been determined on country within a three-day period in the region.

More than one hundred people have gathered firstly at Moola Bulla Station, east of Halls Creek, for the determination of the Ngarrawanji native title claim on Tuesday, 21 May.

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The Federal Court will then travel further into the East Kimberley to the community of Warmun where the determinations for the Malarngowem and Yurriyangem Taam native title claims are scheduled to occur on Thursday, 23 May. Thursday’s ceremony will also include a special acknowledgment of the Goorring native title determination which occurred in Perth late last year.

The historic determinations will recognise in total more than 34,000 square kilometres of country in the East Kimberley as native title lands – an area bigger than the European nation of Belgium.

The determinations will be made by the Honorable Justice Mortimer for Ngarrawanji on Tuesday and the Honorable Justice Banks-Smith for Malarngowem and Yurriyangem Taam on Thursday. The determinations will mean that as of the end of the week, the Kimberley will be approximately 93.5 per cent native title determined.

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Greg Tait is part of the Applicant for the Ngarrawanji native title claim, which was celebrated at Moola Bulla Station today.

“Today we can walk away with a clear mind and a clear heart. We got here and we should all be very proud of that. All the old people and the spirits will be very proud to see us and our kids here today,” Greg said.

Shirley Purdie is part of the Applicant for the Yurriyangem Taam native title claim and is also part of the Malarngowem claim, which are both scheduled to be determined on Thursday. Shirley said the native title determination would be a happy day.

“We feel good, we really happy, we been waiting long time for it, we really happy we gonna gettem back for Yurriyangem Taam. Gettem native title for our country.”

Jean Malay is part of the Malarngowem native title claim. She said there would be mixed feelings on the day of the determination.

“Many of our elders have passed and now that we are ready for this recognition we wish they were here with us. We will feel a little emotional, but happy as well.”

Kimberley Land Council Chief Executive Officer Nolan Hunter said the determinations are a testament to the Traditional Owners who have never given up on their fight for recognition by the Australian Government of their ongoing and unbroken connection to country.

“I sincerely congratulate the Traditional Owners,” Mr Hunter said. “Securing native title gives people authority to make decisions about what happens on their land – rights that were unjustly taken away during colonisation.”

Mr Hunter also acknowledged the difficulty of the native title process and the emotional toll it has placed on many Traditional Owners.

“The native title process forces people to disclose deeply personal and sensitive information to prove their connection to country,” he said.

“We are seeing that the process of native title is creating trauma in people’s lives, in addition to the trauma people have already experienced from being forcibly removed from their country.

“Many of our elders do not live to see the day that their native tile is determined and for those native title claims still on foot, many of our old people are no longer here to provide first hand evidence.

“Native title is an extremely important recognition of people’s rights before the law, but it comes at a cost.

“This cost must be recognised and we must look at how we can improve the native title process so that it is less onerous, traumatic and divisive for our people.”