A unique Native Title determination recognising commercial rights for the first time in New South Wales has been settled 19 years after the claim was first made.
More than 300 people gathered in the tiny town of Urunga, south of Coffs Harbour, to hear the Federal Court rule that Gumbaynggirr people have Native Title rights over 130 hectares of land and sea.
Justice Berna Collier handed down the determination in favour of the applicants, granting the Gumbaynggirr people their second claim.
The original claim was filed in 1998 by Marg Boney, a Gumbaynggirr woman who was living in a camp on the land until she died in 2007.
Mrs Boney was remembered with sadness by Justice Collier and the community.
“Mum was a very strong woman, she always lived in the truth of things my mother,” said Frances Witt, one of her five children.
“She realised her role was to claim some land because she knew her ancestral history was here, her connection through the ages.
“This land is our sustenance, it’s our livelihood, it’s our future.”
A unique determination
The determination was unique as it was the first to allow Indigenous people to access natural resources and to take, use, share and exchange those natural resources for any purpose, including commercial.
Michael Bell, Chairman of Native Title Services Corporation (NTSCorp) said this new language demonstrated that the use of resources for trading and exchange was part of the ongoing culture of Aboriginal people.
“Black fellas, from the mountains to the sea, have always loved to get together, not just for a yarn, but to barter and exchange,” he said.
“The recognition of commercial rights means that Native Title isn’t just about the symbolism, although that’s important.
“Its also about giving the mob an economic foundation to support culture and family. And there’s nothing more important than that.”
Justice Collier said the claim was also unique in that it was submitted alongside two Indigenous Land Use Agreements and one Aboriginal Land Agreement, involving eight other bodies.
“I understand this is the first such agreement executed in NSW and the parties are to be congratulated in their innovation in their use of that Act,” she said.
A long wait
At 19 years and six months, the claim was one of the longest-running in the state.
Many of the elders involved were not alive to see it happen, including Mrs Boney, and other significant claimants such as Uncle Tom Kelly, Uncle Barry Phyball and Uncle Eddie Briggs.
The chief executive of NTSCorp, Natalie Rotumah, questioned why the process had taken so long.
marked the loss of these people, and the sadness that they were not with the community to see the determination come down.
“Native Title needs proper funding for all sides and stronger commitment from those who oppose claims to see just results in shorter times,” Ms Rotumah said.
Mrs Boney’s eldest daughter said the length of the claim had made it painful.
“It’s been horrible. Many a times I just felt like I couldn’t do it anymore, but I think mum was just prodding me to keep going. It’s been a long hard road.”
For the children
Frances and Christine Witt were hopeful that the result would mean a brighter future for Aboriginal children, and the community generally.
“The vision I have of the future is our children are not going to walk out the door not knowing who they are,” Ms Witt said.
“Not like 10 or 20 years ago when you walked out your door you were a black Australian. Now you are somebody. You are first Australian, you are of Aboriginal descent.
“That parcel of land, that’s our launching pad into the future and I would like to have a great part in that and assisting our community to walk towards that future.