A Native Title holder has been asked to remove his dwelling from his Native Title land, which the local council said in a Notice to Remove was public land, a claim that the local Prescribed Body Corporate disputes.

Patrick Green is Bunuba man from the Kimberly region of Western Australia, near the Martuwarra/Fitzroy River.

He recently decided to move out of the town and get back onto Country, settling on a patch of land about five kilometres west of Fitzroy Crossing, with sea containers and small sheds as dwellings.

Green said he saw moving back onto Country as a way to create opportunities for the next generation.

“I’m wanting to be on Country to get away from the problems of the town, and set an example as a Native Title person,” Green told NIT.

It’s Green’s own Country. He’s a proud Bunuba man and since 2016, his people’s Native Title to a large area around Fitzroy Crossing has been recognised by the Federal Court.

Green was one of the claimants in the 2016 determination, with his name on the paperwork that determined the Bunuba Nation’s ownership of the area.

The Native Title determination gives Green, as a Bunuba man, the right to access, live on, and erect shelters on his Country, among an extensive list of other rights and interests.

He’s been working together with the Bunuba Prescribed Body Corporate for two years to take ownership of the land as an individual Traditional Owner.

But the Shire of Derby/West Kimberly saw it differently.

On December 6, Green was issued with a ‘Notice to Remove’, giving him a week to remove what the Shire called “illegal dwellings” built on public land.

It’s the claim that Green has moved onto public land that is problematic for many experts in Native Title.

Joe Ross is a Director of the Bunuba Prescribed Body Corporate, which represents the Bunuba people and holds the land. He said the claim that Green is on public land is ridiculous.

“It’s not true that it’s public land. It’s an Aboriginal Land Trust reserve, for the use and benefit of Aboriginal people.”

The Shire then sent a second letter to Green, dated December 12, reiterating the request that he remove the structures “at [his] earliest convenience”, and the claim that Green needed permission to occupy the land.

“While you are gaining your approvals including permission to occupy the land, you are required to remove all buildings and structures and cease occupation of the land at your earliest convenience,” the letter read.

In a statement, the Shire of Derby/West Kimberley CEO Amanda O’Halloran said it was planning permissions that were the issue, not Green’s right to the land.

“There are two reserves in question which are within and on the boundary of the townsite of Fitzroy Crossing, these lots fall under various controls encompassed within State legislation which relate to planning, health and building control,” she said.

“The Shire is not disputing his right to the land, it is disputing the legality of the structures erected on the land as no approvals have been sought for this to occur therefore the Shire has issued notices accordingly.

“The Shire is also very keen to assist Mr Green in his endeavours to develop the land in compliance with the relevant legislation.”

But Ross said the Council should have supported Green to get on Country and worked with him to fix the problem instead of issuing notices to remove the structures.

“It’s not like he’s some buffoon who just turned up out of nowhere from the Native Title group,” said Ross.

“He’s a well-known character, it’s not like you can’t go and talk to him.”

Green is the Chair of Leedal Pty Ltd, a company who own a number of establishments in Fitzroy Crossing.

Hema Hariharan, Managing Practitioner Director at Arma Legal, said councils need to work with Native Title holders who want to live on Country.

“[The Council] should have worked out a process by which to engage Native Title holders in the exercise of their determined Native Title rights,” Hariharan said.

Ross said the Shire should be encouraging people to get back out on Country and working with those who want to be closer to their traditional lands.

By Sarah Smit