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Historic first as Groote Eylandt Township Lease returned to Traditional Owners

Aaron Bloch -

The Groote Eylandt Township Lease was transferred to the Anindilyakwa Royalties Aboriginal Corporation this week, representing a milestone for Indigenous stakeholders nationwide.

It is the first Commonwealth township lease to be returned to the local community.

The transfer is the culmination of more than three years of collaborative work by the Anindilyakwa Land Council and the Commonwealth Executive Director of Township Leasing.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney said township leasing in the Northern Territory is an important vehicle that drives Aboriginal decision-making in communities and provides an opportunity for community management over economic activity on Aboriginal land.

"This historic transfer reminds the country of the strength of existing leadership structures in First Nations communities," she said.

Minister Burney congratulated all involved in the transfer, in particular recognising the Traditional Owners and ARAC.

"I look forward to seeing ARAC bring the aspirations of Traditional Owners to life in their communities."

Senator for the Northern Territory Malarndirri McCarthy said that "as a Yanyuwa Garrwa woman from Borroloola with ancestors interconnected to the Anindilyakwa people of Groote Eylandt through kujika, through songline, this milestone is an absolute honour to celebrate with Traditional Owners today".

ARAC transition manager Jordy Bowman noted the importance of the transfer in allowing "Anindilyakwa people [to] hold all decision making power under the township lease".

Ms Bowman said ARAC's majority Traditional Owner board "has formally delegated decision-making powers for decisions about land use and use of rental income from subleases under the township lease to Community Committees," she told National Indigenous Times.

"The seven committees are comprised of traditional owners and residents of each of the communities under the township lease. This ensures that land use and leasing decisions are being made on the ground by those living in the communities and impacted by these decisions.

"There has been a significant body of work undertaken in the lead up to the transfer to build capability and capacity within Anindilyakwa Royalties Aboriginal Corporation to ensure success."

This includes the establishment of a Lease Management Unit to support the Community Committees whilst expertise has been sought out including those with experience managing township leases in the Northern Territory.

ARAC director James Durilla, said the organisation is very excited the Township Lease has been transferred.

"ARAC has an important job now in supporting Traditional Owners to manage township leasing in the Groote communities," he said.

Included in the Lease Transfer are the four satellite communities of Bartalumba Bay, Four Mile, Little Paradise and Malkal which will receive the same benefits as the three major Groote Archipelago communities.

"As a resident of Malkala, I am personally very happy that the four satellite communities will now have more opportunities to access funding for new infrastructure and make service delivery simpler," said Mr Durilla.

"It is important that these four communities are now treated the same as the bigger communities."

Anindilyakwa Land Council Chairman Tony Wurramarrba AO said "After 14 years of the Executive Director working with Groote communities to manage land use in our communities, now Anindilyakwa Traditional Owners are ready to take over this role".

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