In 1978 Aboriginal people faced off against a convoy of police and miners to protect their sacred land at Nookanbah in Western Australia’s far north.
On Monday, a re-enactment of the historic Nookanbah march marked the start of the Kimberley Land Council’s 40th anniversary celebrations.
It’s been four decades since the Nookanbah stand was at the heart of a chapter in WA’s history which led to land rights being placed firmly on the national agenda.
The battle was also the first test for the Kimberley Land Council (KLC) whose formation coincided with Nookanbah and which played a key role in supporting the region’s Aboriginal people throughout the dispute.
Today the KLC lays claim to being one of the most successful native title representative bodies in Australia.
KLC chairman Anthony Watson said the 40th anniversary would be marked with a week of celebrations at Ngumpan community, about 90kms from Fitzroy Crossing.
The event, which is expected to attract more than 800 people, will close with a performance by the family and founding members of Yothu Yindi.
The late Mr Yunupingu attended the first meeting of the KLC at Noonkanbah together with the Yirrkala dancers.
“The 40th anniversary of the KLC is an historic event not just for Aboriginal people but the whole of the Kimberley,” Mr Watson said.
“The KLC has come from humble beginnings to become one of the strongest voices on Aboriginal issues locally, nationally and internationally.”
“We will be honouring our old guard, on whose shoulders the KLC stands today, and calling on our next generation of leaders to take up the charge.”
KLC acting chief executive officer Tyronne Garstone said the anniversary was also a time to reflect on the issues that continued to prevail for the Kimberley mob.
“We have come a long way since 1978, but we still have a difficult journey ahead,” Mr Garstone said.
“The consequences of colonisation are enduring. Our young people are suffering and the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is ever widening.”
“In 2020, Australia marks the 250th anniversary of the arrival of Captain Cook. There is no better time for Australia to right the wrongs of the past and deliver real recognition and representation for our Indigenous brothers and sisters.”
“We call on the Australian Government to commit to constitutional reform and a referendum, fulfilling the wishes of First Nations people. It is only by changing the systems, policies and structures that perpetuate the status quo that we will ever see progress for our people.”
The KLC formed in 1978 at Nookanbah and one of its first battles unfolded there when international mining company Amax, supported by the WA government, wanted to drill for oil on sacred ground.
Kimberley Aboriginal people travelled from all over the region to support the Yungngora people and protest against the mine, resulting in national and international headlines.
The KLC was officially recognised as the native title representative body for the Kimberley in 1993.
By Wendy Caccetta