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Native Title battle in Goldfields resolved after 30-year fight for recognition

David Prestipino -

After a 30-year battle, the Wongi People's Native Title rights have been recognised after the Federal Court of Australia ruled in favour of their claim over 30,000sqm of Wongatha land in the vast Eastern Goldfields area.

Last Tuesday's proceedings were significant given the hurdles the Wongi people had to overcome after the dismissal of their original claim in 2007, which the group began working on 30 years ago in 1993 and was filed in 1999.

Hundreds gathered at Menzies Oval last Tuesday as the proceedings solidified the Nyalpa Pirniku claim that encompasses an area covering three local government areas — the shires of Menzies, Leonora and Laverton — as well as Mount Margaret.

Claim applicants - Patricia Lewis, Leo Thomas, Vanessa Thomas, Ron Harrington-Smith, Mr O'Loughlin, Darren Polak, Mr Stokes, Aubrey Lynch, John Walter Danny Graham and Timothy Sceghi - represented members of the Western Desert Cultural Bloc, who refer to themselves as the Wangkayi (Western Desert people).

As it stands, 87 per cent of Western Australia is now subject to Native Title claims, more than any other state.

Aubrey Lynch, an 86-year-old senior lore man who has been fighting for native title over his country for 30 years, said the claim was called the Nyalpa Pirniku claim, meaning 'Old many' in language.

"We have been fighting for about 25 years. It's a long time, and during that time we lost a lot of our old people," he told the crowd at the Native Title ceremony last Tuesday.

"Nyalpa means old and Pirniku means many.

"Old People, many paths, so we named it Nyalpa Pirniku and now I am saying to the young ones ... today's ceremony is not for young people - it is for the older people."

The group's original application, entered in 2019, overlapped with the claimed area in two other applications — the Darlot and Maduwongga applications.

Mediation between the Nyalpa Pirniku claim group and Darlot claim group resolved the overlap, with the Darlot boundary being amended, however, the overlap with the Maduwongga claim was resolved following determination by the Federal Court, which dismissed the Maduwongga claim.

The Nyalpa Pirniku determination area is defined by several tjukurrpa (dreaming) and other sites which inform and provide the basis for the Western Desert Cultural Bloc laws and customs.

The claim group was successful in proving its primary and continuing maintenance of tjukurrpa in the determination area's land and waters since about 1890.

Ms Lewis, who was representing family that had passed away, said the decision was momentous and made the day very special for those in attendance.

"I feel really privileged, I feel happy, at long last we have achieved and it's really good to be with your family and your people," she said.

We have come a long way, we are all happy."

Her thoughts were with those who had fought for decades but were no longer present to see the day they won.

"A lot of our old people have passed on so today is a milestone, it is a real big milestone in that history but also, it's sad," she said.

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