The largest Native Title settlement in Australian history is one step closer to completion after the Western Australian Government and Noongar Elders signed off on the first transfers of land back to the Noongar Nation.

On Wednesday, WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Stephen Dawson and Lands Minister Tony Buti along with representatives from the Noongar community signed documents transferring the first parcels of the 320,000 hectare Noongar Land Estate (NLE) to Noongar hands.

Whadjuk/Yued man Brendan Moore, Chair of the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (SWALSC), said it’s a day that has been a long time coming.

“It’s been almost a decade. Many people have been working on this for 15 or so years. But I mean, land rights go right back to settlement,” Moore told NIT.

The South West Native Title Settlement covers an area larger than the entire state of Victoria and includes 300,000 hectares of reserves, as well as 20,000 hectares of freehold land that can be developed for and by the Noongar people.

Minister Dawson said the Noongar Regional Corporations will have a key role in the future management of the Estate.

“The creation of the Estate is intended to provide a significant asset base to the Noongar community, with the Noongar Boodja Trust becoming a major land holder in the South West,” he said.

“Further to this, the economic potential for the community to use and benefit from activities and land management opportunities is also significant.”

The settlement, first drafted in 2016 by the Barnett Government, required the surrender of the 2006 Noongar Native Title claim, but Moore said the new agreement gives important economic benefits.

“We do have the ability to develop land and even sell land off, so that we can actually work in this current economy,” he said.

“We’re not going back 180 years, we’re here now. We’re in an economy and we want to be able to partake in that economy.”

The settlement is being led by SWALSC, with preparations in place for the incorporation of six regional councils representing the South West’s various language groups, expected to come in March 2022.

The land is being transferred over a five-year period, which Moore says will help the Noongar people to begin caring for their ancestral lands once again.

“We’re making sure that we’re checking on these lands,” he said.

“We’re getting them back because they were already our lands, [but] they’re not going to come back in the same conditions in which they were taken.

“We have to make sure they’re all free of pests and diseases or any pollutions. We want to make sure they’re in top shape and looked after.”

Minister Dawson said it was an honour to be part of the milestone.

“Noongar access to and ownership of land forms a cornerstone of the Settlement, and Noongar people’s ability to connect with their Boodja is of fundamental importance,” he said.

“I look forward to partnering with the Noongar people to achieve sustainable social, economic and cultural outcomes, including the ability to develop, hold and access their Boodja as the Traditional Owners of the South West.”

The official signing ceremony was attended by Bev Port-Louis, Geri Hayden, Doreen Nelson, Dorothy Bagshaw, Elizabeth Hayden, David Ashton, Laurence Riley, Brendan Moore, Vanessa Kickett, Vanessa Forward, Edward Armstrong and Ministers Tony Buti and Stephen Dawson.

By Sarah Smit