The Ngurrara People in Western Australia’s Kimberley have been recognised as the Native Title holders of about 20,455 sq km of land and water in Broome, Derby, Halls Creek and East and West Kimberley.
Federal Court Judge Mordecai Bromberg delivered the Native Title consent determination last week at the Ngurtuwarta community, about 10km south of Fitzroy Crossing.
It was reached by consent with parties including the WA Government and recognises both exclusive and non-exclusive Native Title rights and interests.
The area includes pastoral stations such as Christmas Creek, Yougawalla, Larawa, Bulka, Beefwood Park, Cherrabun, Gogo, and Millijidee, as well as areas of unallocated Crown land.
Traditional owner Harry Yungabun said he felt relieved to finally see Native Title recognised on his country.
“Native Title is really important for recognition for old people but especially our young people, the future generation, so they can understand the land, the country, the people and the culture,” Mr Yungabun said.
“I feel relieved that after all this time we’ve finally done it; we’ve gotten Native Title.”
Kimberley Land Council acting chief executive officer Tyronne Garstone congratulated the Ngurrara People.
“Getting Native Title is one of the most arduous processes Aboriginal people can go through, but today the Ngurrara People have seen the outcome of their patience and hard work,” Mr Garstone said.
“The determination recognises the ongoing and unbroken connection that the Ngurrara People have to their country, giving them rights and a real say as to what happens to and on their land.
“The sense of pride that people receive from this recognition of their rights is profound.
“I congratulate and honour the Ngurrara People on this meaningful day.”
Not so fast, says WA Government
But Mr Garstone said the joy of the occasion would be tarnished by a last-minute State Government backflip that changes the terms of the Native Title determination.
“At the 11th hour the McGowan Government has decided not to honour parts of the consent determination that were agreed to in November 2017,” he said.
“The decision has resulted in areas of country that had been agreed to be recognised by all parties as exclusive possession Native Title being changed unilaterally by the state to non-exclusive possession, significantly reducing the rights of traditional owners.
“This means only part of the claim has been determined today and the remaining areas will go through yet another court process – a waste of time, money and resources.”
Kimberley Land Council is the legal representative for the Yi-Martuwarra Ngurrara claim.
The WA Government told NIT on Tuesday it wasn’t acting in bad faith, but was tied to a recent full court decision that decided in certain conditions the level of Native Title rights available are limited to non-exclusive rights and made the previously agreed position between the state and the KLC impossible.
“Whilst I acknowledged that this is an unfortunate situation to be in, it is simply not correct for the KLC to characterise the situation as an act of bad faith by the Government or something that is even legally within the power of the state to remedy,” WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt said.
“The fact is that the court has made a decision and as much as I’d like to ignore many court decisions, as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs it simply isn’t appropriate that I do so.
“The Government will continue to work with the KLC to resolve the issue.”