Bourke Celebrations over Return of Land

The North West Land Corporation held celebrations in Bourke recently to mark the return of Calooma/ Nulty Springs near Bourke and Kaituna Uno near Coonamble.

NSWALC Councillors and Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC) reps from the North West Land Corporation gathered on a hot day at Calooma station.

The River Boys, a local Aboriginal youth group, danced barefoot, kicking up dust as they took turns doing the shake a leg to welcome visitors.

This was followed by speeches from dignitaries including Allan Lamb, Deputy Chairman of the North West Land Corporation, who welcomed the return of the properties.

“The handback of these properties increases our capacity to pursue economic opportunities and I commend the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council on their visionary leadership making this decision, a decision which will empower and benefit many LALCs in this region,” Mr Lamb said.

During the 1980s, through the Regional Council, the second tier of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Rights network, LALC’s pooled their funds and purchased properties.

However, the Greiner Government abolished the Regional Land Council in the 1990s giving NSWALC control of the all properties and assets.

More than two decades later, NSWALC is handing back control of the rural properties to the LALCs.

The hand back will benefit 17 Local Aboriginal Land Councils which form the North West Land Corporation, including Baradine, Brewarrina, Cobar, Collarenebri, Coonamble, Goodooga, Lightning Ridge, Moree, Mungindi, Murrawari, Narrabri, Nulla Nulla, Pilliga, Toomelah, Walgett, Wee Waa and Weilmoringle.

NSWALC Chairman Craig Cromelin said it’s the right thing to do before quoting the Midnight Oil song, “Beds are Burning.”

“It belongs to them, let’s give it back,” he said.

The official transfer of the title deeds took place in November 2014 but there was a lot of planning and work undertaken prior to that and in the lead up to the celebrations held recently at Calooma on March 31st 2015.

Calooma station is a rundown property and hasn’t been operating for a long time, so the North West Aboriginal Land Corporation forged ahead, liaising with various organisations to secure grants and assistance for a desperately needed makeover.

This included an agreement with Murdi Paaki Regional Enterprise (MPREC) to upgrade the homestead at Calooma station to make it livable for a caretaker to reside in.

Water and fencing infrastructure also need to be fixed to make it viable to run social programs and create economic opportunities.

But rather than constantly relying on “outsiders” to come in and do repairs, MPREC will also provide training to local mob in Construction through the Remote Jobs Communities Program to carry out maintenance work.

NSWALC North West Councillor Anne Dennis said the hand back creates potential for our mob to build autonomy and make a viable income.

“The North West Land Corporation was required to undergo a few start-up tasks and the fact they succeeded in every one is a testament to their strength and determination,” she said.

The committee tasked with bringing the NWLC into compliance under the Land Rights Act included Les Barker (Nulla Nulla LALC), BJ Harris (Coonamble Land Council), Allan Cobb (Lighting Ridge LALC), Allan Lamb (Goodooga LALC) and Renee Clements (Cobar LALC).

Cr Dennis added that land will be set aside for cultural activities, social and diversionary programs.

A business plan was created with help from the University of Sydney’s Rural and Remote Enterprise Program (RARE), Business school and Chalk and Fitzgerald Lawyers.

Feasibility studies have already been done on Carbon Farming, Renewable, INS Clearing and Goats.

The potential for LALCs is huge but the dry, semi- arid climate can wreak havoc on farmers.

Broad acre cropping at Kaituna Uno saw profits soar above $500,000 in 2012 but the following year they took a dive due to an ongoing drought.

Both Kaituna Uno and Nulty Springs have been leased through an Expression of Interest process.

“I’ve witnessed the process from a seed and watched it come to fruition. It has been an amazing and overwhelming experience,” Cr Dennis said.

On the day of the celebrations at Calooma Station, a symbolic turning of the soil took place and a tree was planted to celebrate the beginning of a new journey for the LALCs.

To date, the State Aboriginal Land Council has returned five properties to LALCs. Appin Station was handed back to Menindee Local Aboriginal Land Council in Far Western NSW last year.