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Yi-Martuwarra Ngurrara native title handed down in central Kimberley

March 12, 2018

The Ngurrara people have today been recognised as the native title holders of approximately 20,000 square kilometres of land and water in the central Kimberley.

The consent determination held at Ngurtuwarta Community outside of Fitzroy Crossing applies to part of the Yi-Martuwarra Ngurrara claim which was first lodged in 2012.

Today’s determination was handed down by Justice Bromberg of the Federal Court of Australia, and recognises both exclusive and non-exclusive native title rights and interests.

The determination covers part or all of a number of pastoral stations, including Christmas Creek, Yougawalla, Larawa, Bulka, Beefwood Park, Cherrabun, Gogo, Jubilee Downs, Quanbun and Millijidee, as well as significant areas of unallocated Crown land which adjoins the already determined Ngurrara native title areas, where native title was recognised by the Federal Court in 2007 and 2012.

Traditional Owner and Named Applicant for the Yi-Martuwarra Ngurrara claim Harry Yungabun said he felt relieved to finally see native title recognised on his country.

“Native title is really important for recognition for old people but especially our young people, the future generation, so they can understand the land, the country, the people and the culture,” Mr Yungabun said. “I feel relieved that after all this time we’ve finally done it, we’ve gotten native title.”

Kimberley Land Council Acting Chief Executive Officer Tyronne Garstone congratulated the Ngurrara people on the significant occasion.

“Getting native title is one of the most arduous processes Aboriginal people can go through, but today the Ngurrara people have seen the outcome of their patience and hard work,” Mr Garstone said.

“The determination recognises the ongoing and unbroken connection that the Ngurrara people have to their country, giving them rights and a real say as to what happens to and on their land.

“The sense of pride that people receive from this recognition of their rights is profound. I congratulate and honour the Ngurrara people on this meaningful day.” However, Mr Garstone said the joy of the occasion would be tarnished by a last minute State Government backflip changing the terms of the native title determination.

“At the eleventh hour the McGowan Government has decided not to honour parts of the consent determination that were agreed to in November 2017,” he said.

 “The decision has resulted in areas of country that had been agreed to be recognised by all parties as exclusive possession native title being changed unilaterally by the State to non-exclusive possession, significantly reducing the rights of Traditional Owners.

“This means only part of the claim has been determined today and the remaining areas will go through yet another court process – a waste of time, money and resources.

“This is an incredible move by the McGowan Government given the fiscal difficulties faced by the state of Western Australia and will only serve to further draw out native title claims in the future.”

Mr Garstone said most frustrating is the fact is that the State acknowledges that further court processes will only get all parties back to the point that had already been agreed – that the areas not included in today’s determination will ultimately be recognised as exclusive possession native title.

“The decision comes at a significant cost to Traditional Owners who have already spent years negotiating the terms of the determination, only to see it changed and disrespected at the last moment,” he said. “Tragically, along the way members of the Ngurrara community have passed away. It is a sad but almost certain inevitability that more people will be lost in the time it takes to bring this claim to completion.”

The Kimberley Land Council is the legal representative for the Yi-Martuwarra Ngurrara claim and will continue to work with the group to progress the remaining portion of the claim.


Who are the Ngurrara people?

The native title claimants are the Ngurrara people who, in accordance with their traditional laws and customs, identify themselves and their forebears as Jiwaliny, Mangala, Manyjilyjarra, Walmajarri, and Wangkajungka, The Ngurrara people have a deep and unbroken connection to their country. They are bound together by a set of laws and customs. Ngurrara people identify themselves through their connection to country by laws relating to jila (permanent waterholes) and kalpurtu (the totemic snakes which inhabit jila). Jila-kalpurtu law is what connects Ngurrara people and country together in an unbroken line since prior to colonisation.


History of the Yi-Martuwarra Ngurrara native title claim:

The Yi-Martuwarra Ngurrara native title claim was lodged in 2012. The area determined on 12 March consists of approximately 20,000 square kilometres of land and water located south east of Fitzroy Crossing, extending into the edges of the Great Sandy Desert. It is the fourth native claim to be determined on behalf of the Ngurrara people. The largest of the Ngurrara claims was determined on November 7, 2009 and includes 77,814 square kilometres in the Great Sandy Desert and a section of the Canning Stock Route. In 2012, another two claims covering small parcels of land in the desert region were also determined. Yi-Martuwarra Ngurrara refers to the northern river country (Yi-Martuwarra) and language of the Ngurrara people.


Nature of native title rights and interests:

The Yi-Martuwarra Ngurarra native title determination recognises that the Ngurrara people have rights and interests inside the claim area, based on their continuing connection to that country and in line with their traditional laws and customs, which have continued to be unbroken since before the British declared sovereignty across Western Australia in 1829. The Ngurrara people have exclusive possession across approximately 15 per cent of the native title area including important sites and soaks, communities and unallocated crown land. As a result their rights include:

  • The right to access, remain in, and use the land;
  • The right to take the resources of the land; and
  • The right to protect places of significance and engage in cultural activities on the land

Traditional Owners have the right to make decisions about the manner in which they exercise their native title rights and interests in relation to the land. All rights and interests for which recognition is sought are subject to State and Commonwealth laws and the legitimate rights of others. The Ngurrara people also have non-exclusive native title rights in the area and have signed a co-existence agreement with neighbouring pastoralists in relation to access to country.

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