New land rights deal ends fight
Traditional owners of Kuruma country have criticised the native title process after winning a lengthy battle for land rights.
As the rest of Australia paused in time for the race that stops the nation, more than 100 traditional owners of the Jajiwara (Robe River) area gathered to watch a new legacy be inked into law.
That legacy was native title, and for the Kuruma Marthudhunera people, it has been almost 20 years in the making.
Despite jubilation at the verdict, young and old members of the crowd were quick to point out some of those who had spent their lives fighting for this day were not present.
A respected elder died before he could see the proud moment for his country and people.
Kuruma elder Cyril Lockyer said the native title process had proved a long and hard road.
“The sad thing is the people who started off on this long and rocky road who aren’t here today and I hope their spirits are with us here,” he said.
“Some of those people who passed on, they never really got around to passing their knowledge on to their kids.”
In his Welcome to Country, Neil Finlay paid tribute to the people who had died before seeing the end of this fight.
“It’s sad for me sometimes, I feel it where I am standing,” he said.
“It’s sad I know they not around anymore and we been fighting for this to get here.
“What the old people been telling me, you look after the country.”
Speaking after the Federal Court hearing on behalf of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Roger Hellier said the State
Government was willing to work with traditional owners wherever it could.
Mr Hellier said WA was leading Australia with more than 1.28 million square kilometres, or 51 per cent of the State, now falling under native title agreements.
He said the Kuruma Marthudhunera Part A determination was the 43rd in the State.
Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Simon Hawkins said the State Government had set the bar for native title too high.
“Western Australia is very much controlled by a whole range of other land uses when determining native title, so where there is a heavy mining interest it seems to take a very long time,” he said. “It is a reflection on Western Australia, the ideological position of the State Government versus other parts of the country where they see the important relationship with traditional owners going forward.”
Mr Hawkins said the Kuruma people had been left frustrated by the process.
Kuruma Marthudhunera Aboriginal Corporation chairwoman Sara Slattery said it was important that the young people continue to fight for what the elders had started.
“It’s very sad a lot of the people who started this are no longer here with us but a lot of the people here today realise the importance of it,” she said.
Ms Slattery said there was still work to do to secure Part B of the determination.