In the birthplace of Australia’s land rights movement, there’s been a big step towards reconciliation

Gurindji traditional owners have been granted native title rights to the historic Northern Territory Wave Hill station, the birthplace of Australia’s Aboriginal land rights movement.

Paddy Doolak was among more than 200 Indigenous stockmen who walked off Wave Hill station in 1966, in protest over poor pay and conditions and their land dispossession.

His native title rights to 5000 square kilometres of the station, 780 kilometres south of Darwin, have now been recognised by the Federal Court.

The native title rights of the families of the other Indigenous landowners who followed Gurindji leader Vincent Lingiari in the walk-off have also been recognised.

“I was born here, walked off from here,” Mr Doolak said.

“In the early days, we were working for no money.”

A photo of Indigenous man Paddy Doolak sitting on the ground with the old Wave Hill station in the background.
Native title holder Paddy Doolak walked off the station in 1966.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

Determination secures negotiating power

The Gurindji people were promised their land back in 1975 when then-Prime Minister Gough Whitlam poured soil from the station into Mr Lingiari’s hand.

But they only gained a pastoral lease with grazing rights to part of the station in that year, and land rights to another 3000 square kilometres — which became the Daguragu Land Trust — in 1986.

Justice Richard White travelled to the site of the ruined Wave Hill station homestead to formally recognise the Gurindji families’ rights to the rest of the land.

“I think all of us here today would recognise that this is a particularly special determination of native title,” he said.

“We’re not returning land.

“What we’re doing is recognising that the Jamangku, Japuwuny, Parlakuna-Parkinykarni and Yilyilyimawu land-holding groups have had interests in this land at least from the time of European settlement, probably for millennia.”

A dying tree next to the remains of the old Wave Hill homestead at Jinbarak near Kalkarindji.
The remains of the old Wave Hill station homestead.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

The Central Land Council said the key reason for the native title application was to give traditional owners the right to negotiate royalties for compensation from resources companies given permission to explore the area by the Northern Territory Government.

Hopes Indigenous enterprise will grow

Stockman and native title holder Matthew Algy said he was pleased the court’s determination would now give Gurindji people the power to negotiate for royalties.

“I’m really proud because this Wave Hill walk-off started everything for the land rights,” he said.

A photo of Indigenous man Matthew Algy sitting on country near Kalkarindji. Photo taken 8 August 2020.
Native title holder Matthew Algy says the ruling will enable Indigenous people to negotiate for resources royalties.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

He said he hoped some people in the nearby communities of Kalkarindji and Daguragu would use some of their royalties to set up their own enterprises.

“I reckon it’s a good thing if they build up a little business with the royalty money, but it depends on how you want to use the money for your own land.”

Mr Lingiari’s granddaughter, Lisa Smiler, said the late land rights activist would be very proud.

“I am so proud to be a granddaughter of Vincent Lingiari; it makes me feel so proud that I am here today,” she said.

“It brings so many memories back for my family and our ancestors that walked off in 1966.”

A photo of Indigenous woman Lisa Smiler leaning on a tree near Kalkarindji.
Lisa Smiler says her grandfather, Vincent Lingiari, would be very proud.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

‘Good for our future in Australia’

Justice White told the crowd listening to his court determination that he was proud this was Australia’s 501st native title determination.

Wave Hill walk-off veteran and retired stockman Jimmy Wavehill said he felt the determination was a significant step towards reconciliation.

“We gave them our time, and then we had to walk off the station, but we don’t mind,” he said.

“I’m looking forward, and you guys, ladies and gentlemen, make me real proud, and real happy with you mob.

“We are all still friends together, [this is] good for our future in Australia.”

A close-up portrait of Indigenous man Jimmy Wavehill.
Wave Hill walk-off veteran Jimmy Wavehill welcomes the determination.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

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