Tennant & District Times: Native Title Rights

Jerry Kelly, Dick and Geoffrey Foster with Justice Charlesworth.

Jerry Kelly, Dick and Geoffrey Foster with Justice Charlesworth.

Traditional owners celebrate recognition of native title rights over Tennant Creek Station. Article featured in the Tennant & District Times.

Traditional Owners of Tennant Creek Station celebrated the recognition of their native title rights on the pastoral property at an official ceremony last week.

Justice Natalie Charlesworth handed down a non-exclusive consent determination over the 3,650 square kilometre property to seven landholding groups during a Federal Court sitting near Lirripi on the station, 36 kilometres east of Tennant Creek.

The landholding groups with traditional links to the property are Kankawarla, Kanturrpa, Kurtinja, Patta, Pirttangu, Purrurtu and Warupunju. At the ceremony Justice Charlesworth spoke about the impact of colonialism and the importance of keeping rituals alive in a touching speech.

‘For the western minds it takes some effort to appreciate what it was like here in this place, before colonisation’ she said. ‘Now is the time to make that effort. Now is the time to reflect. By this determination, the law of Australia recognises that at sovereignty this land was inhabited by the ancestors of the seven estates who form the claim group of this court proceeding. The law of Australia today recognises that you traditional laws and customs have survived the impact of colonisation and that you maintain your connection with this area, especially your shared responsibility for it and for the dreaming sites within it. In the context of the colonial history of this country, that is a story of optimism and strength. By making this determination, the law isn’t granting you an interest in this land. Something more significant is occurring. The law is recognising rights and interests that have always existed. Always. The Native Title Act reflects an honest view of our shared legal history. It’s the honest history.’

Tennant Creek’s Jerry Kelly from the Kurtinja group said they had been waiting for years for the native title and was happy it finally arrived.

We can keep the country going, make sure no damage happens to the trees, sacred sites and waterholes if the country gets burned off.

Central Land Council (CLC) Native Title Manager Francine McCarthy, who is the Purrurtu group, said it was pleasing station owner Ken Ford joined the ceremony.

‘A lot of Aboriginal groups that have yet to build a relationship with him travelled to see him so hopefully the engagement would start and also enable him to see there is a lot more Aboriginal people associated with the pastoral lease than the one who he deals with today’

‘It’s fortunate the native title holders of Tennant Creek Station have built a good relationship with the pastoralists and Ken and his wife Leigh - they have always been engaged with them. They also lease neighbouring Aboriginal land so they can extend their pastoral operations and also give Aboriginal people an opportunity to be employed and start teaching the younger generations about what life was like in the old days, the cattle station life. The recognition of their native title rights enable native title holders to be able to continue to practice their traditional law and culture on the pastoral lease. It also allows them to visit the area which is of historical significance.

One particular area is the Kalkarti mission which is located on Tennant Creek Station, to the east of the Telegraph station. It was the first Aboriginal reserve that was set up in the 1890’s and ceased to exist I think in 1932. This is where a lot of the Aboriginal people were placed’

Beryl Brown from the Kanturrpa group said the ceremony was about moving forward and understanding their side of the story.

Our grandfather is buried here, we buried him here in 1978. He used to work in Tennant Creek. Before government used to put names for old people, they put his name as Chicken Jack Brown and that’s funny you know. We used to come through here when we were kids, along the line the government would be too hard on people’s country and it is today. We got knowledge, we know what to say and we’re ready.

Our families are all buried on the land, we know everything about this land, our father taught us when we were kids, this is sugar bag country.

Kanturrpa’s Ronald Brown spoke about dreaming stories crossing the area.

The story was given to me by old people. I didn’t make that story up, it was not my story, I’m too young to talk about that story. We get stories from old people. They were the last people coming out of the nomadic life. Our genealogy is inside out land and we make our own genealogy. How did we get here to be a family 65,000 years ago? This Native Title, it’s all right but it’s only a recognition. We’ve been here 65,000 years.

Ross Jakamarra Williams from the Purrutu group called it a proud day.

It is a proud day because older people fought very hard and it’s good to be a part of the negotiation. The younger generations can nurture and keep the story going for the next generation.

Mr Jones from the Patta group said the most important aspect for him and their children was the ability to still hunt on the property and practice ceremonies. The CLC lodged the native title application in October 2017 following mining and other development interests within the pastoral lease.

Ms McCarthy said the pastoral lease, which will continue to operate as a cattle station, was home to many cultural and historical places of significance to Aboriginal people. Like Phillip Creek Station to the north, native title holders were unsuccessful in purchasing the station in the early 2000s when it was placed on the market.