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Urpurli Upurli Nguratja's Native Title holders embrace homecoming celebration

Joseph Guenzler -

More than 200 Traditional Owners returned to Cundeelee on Tuesday to be officially acknowledged as the Native Title holders through the Urpurli Upurli Nguratja consent determination.

Cundeelee, 160 kilometres east of Kalgoorlie, and its surroundings are important to native title holders. The area holds valuable resources sought by many and is a trove of stories contributing to Australian history.

Native Title holder Debbie Hansen travelled more than 600km from Tjuntjuntjara for the day.

For Ms Hansen it has been a long time coming since being moved on from her childhood home and place where her old people rest.

"All these years waiting since we were moved on when the water ran out. Now being on country will enable us to pass tjukurrpa on the appropriate people in the appropriate way," she said.

"We want to look after it and look after the people who came from spinifex country who are buried there.

"I'm really happy that my kids and grandkids will be able to be recognised and have a place to connect, learn and try to heal our country."

Cundeelee Native title area. (Image: Central Desert Native Title Services)

The movement of people across the desert over time has led to a diverse group of 49 families claiming native title in this region.

The forced displacement caused by nuclear bomb testing in Maralinga and Emu Flat, South Australia, played a significant role.

Additionally, the construction of the Indian Pacific Railway, Karonie ration depot and Cundeelee Mission prompted the relocation of many from surrounding areas to the determination area.

Several Traditional Owners have lived, at least part of their lives, within the claim area, predominantly at Cundeelee and Coonana, or were born there.

As members of the 'Western Desert Cultural Bloc', they share a connection to each other and the claim area through the tjukurrpa ("the Dreaming" or "the Law").

"Upurli Upurli Nguratja", which translates to 'belonging to the country of the tadpoles,' holds cultural significance, referring to a sizeable rock hole near Cundeelee, central to the cultural history of the claim area.

Painting of determination T-Shirt displayed to the crowd. (Image: Central Desert Native Title Services)

The region is abundant in sandalwood, and Cundeelee Mission contributed by operating under a license, meeting overseas market demand.

This involved utilising Aboriginal labor for rations, with some receiving minimal pay if fortunate.

The Native Title over Urpurli Upurli Nguratja provides current stakeholders with clarity on the rightful individuals to engage with for conducting business on the country.

Native Title Holder Daniel Steve Sinclair said people know and understand why what Traditional Owners do on country and to country is so important.

"Recognition is important to be able to protect the areas and country and looking after it, we want to work together with people coming here and look after the country," he said.

"We can't follow the stories when they get damaged and destroyed, if we don't protect it, we lose our culture which is important for our younger generation to learn and be guided by."

Justice McEvoy presents determination to Daniel Sinclair. (Image: Central Desert Native Title Services)

"Getting our determination means we can go back to country and teach our young generations," Mr Sinclair said.

The progress of Urpurli Upurli Nguratja has been relatively swift since Central Desert Native Title Services filed for claimants in December 2020.

However the journey to resolve overlaps and ensure accurate representation for the country has been intense and emotional for all involved.

Central Desert Native Title Services chief executive officer, Johanna Ramsay, said the determination marks the start of the next exciting phase for the families.

"Central Desert is proud to have been able to support the claimants on what has been an emotional journey for them.It is great to see them be able to come 'home' to Cundeelee to mark this important occasion," Ms Ramsay said.

"We look forward to seeing what they choose to carve out for their future, and we will be alongside them if they choose."

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