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After 25-year wait, victory for the Wirangu people's Native Title claim in the Federal Court

Callan Morse -

More than 25 years after registering a claim, South Australia's Wirangu people have been officially recognised as the Native Title holders of part of the Eyre Peninsula.

The Federal Court of Australia handed down the determination on Country at Streaky Bay, a coastal town on the western side of the Eyre Peninsula.

The determination culminates three sets of proceedings, the first beginning in 1997.

Speaking at the Federal Court hearing, claimant Barry Dean (Jack) Johncock said many Wirangu people, some who have since passed away, have been instrumental in the success of the Native Title claim.

"We've lost a lot of our old people on the journey," Mr Johncock said.

"More recently we lost our Chairman Neville Miller who put a lot of work into this."

Following Mr Miller's passing, Mr Johncock, a long-time member of the Wirangu Aboriginal Corporation assumed the Chairman role to ensure the success of the claim.

"When we lost our chairman Mr. Miller, I was pushed up front to be the voice of the claim," Mr Johncock said.

"I took most of the bullets I suppose, I put myself up the front, but it was a team effort."

Justice Natalie Charlesworth oversaw the handown of the Federal Court's determination. Image: SA Native Title Services.

"After 25 years we finally got to the finish line."

The Native Title claim was first made on 28 August 1997 by Mr Johncock alongside fellow Wirangu applicants Caroline Wilson, Cindy Morrison, Elizabeth Pool, Neville Miller and Kenneth Wilson.

Mr Johncock said although Wirangu people have experienced significant challenges throughout the duration of the claim, he is optimistic that the claim's outcome will lead to positive shared futures in the area.

"We've had hurdles put in all the way from farmers and you name it, we've had them," Mr Johncock said.

"We've had a few issues with the local council here in Streaky Bay but we've sat down and had a talk about moving forward together and setting up some sort of working relationship.

"I just hope the local people in the area he accept what's happened here today and work together in harmony.

"I look forward to positive things coming in the future."

The determination formally recognises the Wirangu people as Native Title holders of more than 5,000 square kilometres of the western Eyre Peninsula.

Mr Johncock said Wirangu people have always had a strong connection to the Peninsula's coastal landscape.

South Australian Attorney-General and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Kyam Maher represented the South Australian Government at the hearing. Image: SA Native Title Services.

"I've been travelling up and down this coast all my life," Mr Johncock said.

"There's a huge movement up and down the coast here of all the Wirangu people.

"Streaky Bay has always been a place where we pull up and get a feed and pull up at the jetty when it's hot and have a bit of a dip.

"It's some of the most pristine country on the coast."

Mr Johncock said Traditional Owners of the Peninsula who have since passed away would be proud of Wirangu people gaining Native Title determination.

"I'm sure they're all happy up there looking down and smiling today," Mr Johncock said.

"The likes of Mr. Wilson, Mrs. Wilson, the Millers and everybody else who was involved in the early years.

"I think they're looking down and smiling and saying to the current Board well done, it's been a battle.

"They asked the Board to push through and seek to bring it to fruition and we've done that."

South Australian Attorney-General Kyam Maher also attended the Federal Court's hearing.

Mr Maher said the Native Title determination acknowledges the unbroken cultural and spiritual connection that the Wirangu people have with the western Eyre Peninsula.

"This piece of land is a remarkable part of our state, boasting high cliffs, accessible beaches and a vast interior," Mr Maher said.

"This Consent Determination recognises that the Wirangu people have continued to maintain their traditional connection to this County, and their spiritual relationship with it."

Mr Maher said the determination appropriately recognises the past and provides an opportunity for further reconciliation between government and Aboriginal communities in the future.

"I'm pleased that the State has been able to work with the Wirangu people to reach this settlement, which acknowledges their enduring connection to the land and waters, and celebrates both its heritage and its future," he said.

"Today is also a significant step in reconciliation of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians and in developing our mutual respect for each other.

"It is a testimony to the perseverance of Aboriginal culture, the oldest living one on Earth."

The South Australian Government and Wirangu people have agreed on an Indigenous Land Use Agreement determining how Native Title rights can co-exist with other rights on the western Eyre Peninsula.

The state will also engage in dialogue with the Wirangu people around future activities held on the land.

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