• (L-R) Justin Singh, Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles, Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion, Raylene Singh and Zoe Singh. (AAP)Source: AAP
Australia’s longest running land claim was settled Wednesday, but not everyone supports the decision as acknowledged by the Northern Land Council.
Laura Murphy-Oates

The Point
6 Apr 2016 - 9:29 PM  UPDATED 6 Apr 2016 - 9:29 PM

Northern Land Council CEO Joe Morrison, who announced the Kenbi land claim on Wednesday described the settlement - which took 37 years - as "momentous".

"The Kenbi land claim has hovered over this landscape like a dark cloud for far too long," Mr Morrison said in a joint announcement with Australia’s Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion and Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles. 

"Today that cloud has begun to dissipate." 

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion says the deal is merely acknowledging a longstanding connection to the land.

“[The traditional owners] have always looked after that land, they have always had a cultural connection to that land and that cultural connection remains to this day unbroken," he says.

The land claim stretches across the Cox Peninsula on the western side of Darwin Harbour and includes 52,000 hectares for a land trust and 13,000 hectares for free hold land to be used for Indigenous development by the Larrakia and the Belyuen people.

Lodged in 1979, it has faced many hurdles including being subject to two extensive hearings, three Federal Court reviews and two High Court appeals.

Traditional owner Raelene Singh acknowledged the outcome on Wednesday came too late for many in her family.

“It’s brought back memories of them fighting for this land for so long,” she says.

Contested family claims

In 2000, then NT land commissioner Justice Gray handed down a finding singling out six descendants of Tommy Lyons in the land claim, according to the Australian National University.

About 1,600 Larrakia people say they were not recognised as primary traditional owners, it says.

Tibby Quoll from the Dungalaba clan says his family was one of those left out of the settlement process.

“The Northern Land Council [NLC] have produced a dysfunctional group called the Larrakia language group, made up of families that just made the numbers game for the Kenbi land claim,” he told The Point.

He is calling on the NLC to review the land commissioner’s findings over traditional ownership.

The NLC's CEO Joe Morrison acknowledged in his speech on Wednesday that there is ongoing dissatisfaction with the process.

“I do acknowledge that the settlement does not have the support of all Larrakia families,” he said.

“Their misgivings have focused mainly on the land commissioner’s findings as to who are the traditional owners, and that matter has been a source of great disputation among some of the Larrakia families, even to this day.”

However he says they NLC are unable to do a review at this point in time.

“We don’t have statutory power to review traditional Aboriginal ownership with respect to land which is not yet Aboriginal land,” he says. 

Land disputes 

While many of the terms of the settlement were agreed upon “some years ago”, according to Joe Morrison, the deal was held up by two contentious issues: public fishing access to certain areas in the Cox Peninsular and the clean-up of parcels of contaminated land.

Parts of the Cox peninsular are known to be riddled with asbestos, pesticides and heavy metals dumped on the peninsular since World War II when it was used as a defence post.

In 2009, the parties signed an in principle agreement to begin examining a remediation project which would pave the way for the clean-up of the area and stimulate jobs and investment.

The NT government says the settlement comprises public access to designated areas.

“This includes ongoing public access to the intertidal zone and beaches within the land claim area, which is great news for the recreational fishing community and those who love camping and the great outdoors,” chief minister Adam Giles said.