Gooniyandi consent reflects ‘deep connection to country’

Gooniyandi Traditional Owners Mervyn Street, June Davis and Helen Malo with Justice Barker.

The Gooniyandi people have been recognised as the native title holders of a further 184 square km of their country in the central Kimberley.

Made over part of the Yarrangi Riwi Yoowarni Gooniyandi native title claim, the consent determination was handed down by Justice Barker of the Federal Court of Australia in Perth on Tuesday.

The ruling comes after native title was first recognised in 2013 for the Gooniyandi people of the Fitzroy River over 1.12 million hectares of land and water.

The latest native title determination covers a portion of pastoral station Fossil Downs and recognises the non-exclusive native title rights and interests of the Gooniyandi people.

Gooniyandi traditional owner June Davis said it reflects her people’s deep connection to country.

“We are very happy about today’s native title determination. It is important because it recognises that we belong to this land,” she said.

“Native title means that we can continue to pass on our culture to our younger generations. We can be out on country and keep telling the stories of our people.”

Kimberley Land Council chief executive officer Nolan Hunter said the latest recognition of native title was important because it provided greater certainty about the rights of Gooniyandi people in their country, in line with developments in the law.

“In the past, native title rights have been viewed by some as little more than symbolic, giving Aboriginal people limited powers about what happens on country,” Mr Hunter said.

“(The) ruling is significant as it makes it clear that Gooniyandi native title holders can use their native title rights to gain real economic, as well as social and cultural benefits for their community.

“However, we still have a long way to go before native title rights are properly acknowledged by government as being equal to the property rights of other Australians, particularly here in Western Australia.”

The KLC is continuing to work with people of the central Kimberley to progress the remaining portion of the Yarrangi Riwi Yoowarni Gooniyandi native title claim.

Meanwhile, federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion welcomed the determination.

“The Turnbull-Joyce Coalition recognises that Government must support better economic outcomes from native title and has allocated for the first time funding of more than $20 million directly for native title holders.

“I was pleased to provide almost $200,000 for the Gooniyandi Aboriginal Corporation in 2015 to help it create economic development opportunities for native title holders.

“Native title determinations aren’t just about recognising and honouring the traditional owners of our land; the benefits go much further. The PBC is building an office for Gooniyandi staff and plans to build additions to include space for a community meeting area, a language space and an office for rangers, creating long-term employment opportunities for locals.”

Wendy Caccetta

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