Relief, joy at verdict
A young traditional owner, John Ashburton, choked up as he peered at his elders who sat before him, on the cusp of realising a dream 14 years in the making.
And as a Federal Court judge said the words the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples have been waiting for since 2001, the elders too burst into tears of joy and relief.
It was just before noon last Wednesday that Justice Neil McKerracher, sitting behind a plastic foldout table underneath a tent in the bush east of Nanutarra, determined the PKKP peoples to be the traditional owners of 9521sqkm of land covering the Ashburton Plains and Hamersley Plateau.
Justice McKerracher said there was strong evidence spiritual possession of the land by the PKKP peoples had continued unbroken for thousands of years.
About 150 people turned out to the House Creek hearing where lawyers representing pastoralists, the Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation and the State Solicitors Office watched Justice McKerracher preside over the hearing in the bush in their customary robes.
PKKP elder Marjorie Hughes said it had been a “wonderful” day.
“Everyone is so proud of (senior elder) aunty Maudie (Dowton) and our elders in the past who have handed down their stories, culture and language to everyone,” she said.
“I am so proud to be able to stand up here today and talk about our country to our people.
“We gotta be up there in the front now — leave the past behind and go to the future for our young generation.”
Mrs Hughes said she and fellow elders, past and present, were always confident this day would come.
It was the 50th native title determination in WA, following on from the 49th claim by the Jurruru people made just down the road at Perry Flats a day earlier.
YMAC chief executive Simon Hawkins said 14 years of perseverance and hard work had finally paid off.
“After 14 long years I am very glad that this could finally be settled with the State Government’s consent, rather than having to go through a stressful and expensive trial,” he said.
“I look forward to more consent determinations, so native title groups can move on to the next stage.”