Bellwood Park at Nambucca Heads was packed with hundreds of people ready to witness land rights history in the making at an on-site sitting of the Federal Court. Just across the river was the land in question, Gaagal Wanggaan, South Beach National Park.
When Justice Jagot of the Federal Court confirmed the Gumbaynggirr people’s native title rights to hunt, fish, camp, gather natural resources and protect cultural sites, in accordance with their traditional laws and customs the crowd got to their feet and cheered.
This is the fourth native title determination in NSW and it is the first over land owned by Local Aboriginal Land Councils.
The decision also confirms the intertwining strength of property rights and cultural rights over land by recognising native title, freehold title through land rights, and joint management.
Gaagal Wanggaan has been jointly managed by National Parks and the Gumbaynggirr people since 2010 as a result of resolution to land claims lodged between 1984 and 1995 by the Nambucca Heads and Unkya Local Aboriginal Land Councils under the NSW land Rights Act.
“The very significant outcome of today’s proceeding is for the benefit of all Gumbaynggirr People, regardless of where they live. However it is vitally more important for the future generations of Gumbaynggirr people, our children, our grandchildren and our great grandchildren and so on and so forth,” Unkya Local Aboriginal Land Council Chair Michael Donovan told the hearing.
“Over many years since the native title claim was lodged, the native title claimants and the Unkya LALC have worked in unity to ensure the fundamental goals set by our Gumbaynggirr Elders back in the day, have been achieved.”
Michael Donovan then lead the assembled crowd in a minute’s silence to pay respect and to honour all Gumbaynggirr Elders, especially those who have passed away.
The first Aboriginal land claim in the area was lodged in October 1984, with further claims in 1992 and 1995. When these claims were refused by the State Government in 1996, NSWALC joined with the Local Aboriginal Land Councils to fight the decision. The native title claim over the area was lodged in the same year.
In her detailed judgment Justice Jagot said, “The passing of more than seventeen years between the making of a claim for native title and its resolution is never to be accepted as satisfactory. There is no native title claim so complex, or so bedevilled by seemingly intractable issues, which can justify such a delay. Not even this matter, which raised numerous challenges for the parties which they have overcome … can justify delay of this magnitude. While right to be proud and pleased with the outcome that has been reached by the dedicated efforts of all those involved in making the proposed consent orders a reality, the fundamental truth that justice delayed is also justice denied should never be overlooked and must guide our efforts in respect of the resolution of future applications of the present kind.”
NSWALC congratulates the Gumbaynggirr people on the recognition of their native title rights over these cultural and spiritual lands which include Gaagal Wanggaan, land jointly owned by the Nambucca Heads Local Aboriginal Land Council and Unkya Local Aboriginal Land Council and leased to the State Government as a National Park.
“Today’s decision shows that native title and land rights can work together and are both important systems that provide rights for and advance the interests of Aboriginal people in NSW,” said NSWALC Councillor Peter Smith at the hearing.
“This is a giant step towards achieving ownership and control of our traditional lands not just for now but for our future, for our children – in economic development, training and employment.
“A decision like this should strengthen our faith in the land rights process.”
Michael Donovan said all involved had worked together to achieve positive outcomes.
“That we have survived and our Gumbaynggirr native title rights and interests have also survived is testament to Gumbaynggirr peoples’ resilience and resolve,” he said.
Read Justice Jagot’s full judgment here.
Read Michael Donovan’s submission to the court here
The NSWALC Media Statement is here.