Deal struck on native Eden

Deal struck on native Eden, by Graham Lloyd - 2nd January 2007
(Credit: The Australian)

Githabul win rights to national parks

The Githabul people of northern NSW will get joing management control of the World Heritage-listed national parks after securing the biggest native title deal struck on Australia's eastern seaboard.

The Australian can reveal that the NSW Government has agreed to hand over joint control of 19 national parks and state forests in some of the nation's most picturesque country.

The claim covers parts of the Githabul nation, which stretches for more than 6000sqkm, straddling the NSW and Queensland border near Mt Lindesay and taking in the World Heritage-listed Border Ranges and Toonumbar national parks.

The deal includes job and business opportunities that Githabul elders hope will help the community end its dependence on welfare. "This is reconciliation in a practical sense: we have formed a business with the state Government," said Githabul claimant Trevor Close.

However, large tracts of the land will be withheld from native owners due to the intransigence of the Queensland Government, already under fire from indigenous leaders for its handling of the 2004 death in custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee, on Palm Island.

Mr Close said the Queensland Government had refused to negotiate on the claim for 10 years. As a result, native title over the lower half of Mt Lindesay has been granted, but not the peak. The Queensland areas will be dropped from the original claim and pursued separately.

The Githabul deal - the biggest agreed native title settlement in eastern Australia in terms of area - follows the High Court's landmark Mabo decision in 1992, which recognised the existence of native title, and the Wik decision in 1996 that said native title could co-exist with pastoral leases.

It also follows the Federal Court ruling in September recognising the native title rights of the Noongar people over metropolitan Perth. That decision is being appealed by the West Australian and federal governments.

Mr Close said the significance of the Githabul agreement was that it dealt with the interests of farmers, did not seek compensation for past acts, included the grant of some freehold title, recognised sacred areas and secured such a large tract of interconnected national park and forest reserves.

Lawyers for the NSW Government and the native claimants notified the Federal Court on December 12 that a consent agreement had been reached.

The agreement is scheduled to be signed at a ceremony at Toonumbar in the state's northeast on February 28 - three weeks before the NSW election - and will be attended by NSW Premier Morris Iemma and rock bands Midnight Oil and the Warumpi Band.

NSW Environment Minister Bob Debus told The Australian yesterday the process had "involved lengthy negotiation". "It acknowledges Aboriginal people as traditional owners and gives them a greater say in how national parks are managed and conserved," he said.

As well as giving native title rights over the national parks and state forests, the settlement includes freehold title to an unused nursery, an old forest rangers' station and three sacred sites, including a water spring and a mountain. It also gives the Githabul rights to hunt traditional foods such as turtles.

In exchange, the Githabul tribe, which includes 10 families comprising about 250 people, has relinquished any native title claim to any farmland.

The Githabul community will not seek any financial compensation for land-use decisions made after the High Court's 1992 Mabo decision and before the Githabul agreement is signed. But it will have to be consulted for any future development on land covered by native title. The deal does not affect freehold land or prevent access by non-indigenous Australians to any areas.

Under the agreement, Cazna Williams is being given ownership of three areas, which the anthropologists' report for the claim said were among the most significant within the larger Githabul cultural landscape.

The sites include a roadside water spring and Capeen Mountain, which Ms Williams is not permitted to visit because it is a men's place. The mountain is regarded as the residing place of the skull of the Nyihmbuyn, or powerful spirit.

Ms Williams said she would not prevent anyone drinking from the spring or having access to the areas. "In Aboriginal culture we don't own the land, it owns us," she said.

For Mr Close, the agreement is the culmination of a 10-year campaign, during which he received advice and financial assistance from the Canadian Government to mount the case and study law.

"A lot of people will say in 10 years from now that we gave up too much," Mr Close said. "But they gave us more than we asked for. A lot of lands in the area have not been surveyed and they just threw them into the pool."

The Githabul clan was able to trace its genealogy back to 1790 and its original ancestor, Yagoi, meaning bandicoot, using detailed records kept by the United Aborigines Missionaries staff who gave out rations on the basis of skin colour. An anthropological survey of 10 families has documented how family links and cultural traditions have survived European settlement.

The local Githabul language is still widely spoken and taught in the local Woodenbong school.

Mr Close said the agreement delivered recognition and the prospect of employment for local Aboriginal people. "Under the agreement, the indigenous community will have statutory obligations for the management plans. It is going to be a steep learning curve," he said.

Native title deal struck on parks and forests (from page 1)

Editorial: Githabul deal shows way on native title - 2nd January 2006
(Credit: The Australian)


Mediaman is delighted to assist with media management of Trevor Close and Doug Williams (of The Githabul People), who we had the pleasure to meet and interview on the 2nd January 2007.


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Githabul people

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