• Maude Olbar during the handback (far top left). (Queensland Government)Source: Queensland Government
The handover of part of Guugu Yimidhirr country, Queensland, to traditional owners marks the end of an ‘overwhelming’ land claim battle lasting three generations.
Philip Ly

The Point
7 Apr 2016 - 4:23 PM  UPDATED 7 Apr 2016 - 4:23 PM

Maude Olbar, a Wunuurr-Warra clan member from Sandstone East, says returning the land to its traditional owners on Wednesday is replenishing.

“To have it back and have a base camp would be so exciting for us all to be back on our homeland,” she says.

Ms Olbar is from one of five clans that had more than 54,000 hectares returned to them in a successful land claim, with nearly half to be declared a new national park.

She says the previous limits on accessing the area lowered people’s self-esteem.

“We felt like we didn’t have any connection back then,” Ms Olbar says.

“It was really upsetting. It’s the main pathway to the place for hunting and gathering.”

Kenbi land claim: authorities hail historic settlement but family says many left out
Australia’s longest running land claim was settled Wednesday, but not everyone supports the decision as acknowledged by the Northern Land Council.

Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation negotiated with the state government on behalf of the five clans.

Its chief executive, Gerhardt Pearson, says there is a realisation that the land belongs to them now but really hoped it would have come sooner.

He says if some of the elders, who have passed on, were still with them, it may have been settled earlier.

But they were present during the handover yesterday, he adds.

“I was there in the land right struggles and they were there with me when we were putting the base for this together and it deeply – it hurts deeply that they’re not there when you go back on country.”

The people are now part of the land as drivers, instead of “tourists”, he says.

“You need the people from that land to occupy it, to be active on it, to make decisions about it, to use it to advance their connections and the aspirations they have,” Mr Pearson says.

The corporation’s chief operating officer Terry Piper says the land handover falls under Native Title as it is a grant of Aboriginal freehold, signed off under the Indigenous Land Use Agreement in the Native Title Act. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships Minister Curtis Pitt says the day marks an ongoing commitment by the Queensland Government to ensure traditional lands are handed back to the rightful owners.

Mr Pitt says it marks the start of the next chapter for traditional owners and where they can go from here.

“It’s all about what happens in the years to come. There is economic development and opportunities, and training opportunities that will come from such a significant handover.

On Wednesday one of Australia’s longest running land claims was settled. The Kenbi land claim, which stretches across the Cox Peninsula on the western side of Darwin Harbour in Northern Territory, took 37 years.

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

Native Title fast facts

  • Australia has about 2.3 million square kilometres of Native Title recognised land.
  • The three largest Native Title areas recognised by determination are in Western Australia:  

1. Ngaanyatjarra Part A at 167,420 square kilometres
2. Martu and Ngurrara at 135,941square kilometres
3. Ngadju at 84,783 square kilometres

  • About 31.9 per cent of Australia has had Native Title recognised by determination.
  • Native Title involves the recognition of pre-existing rights and interests of Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders in relation to land and waters.
  • The difference between Native Title and land rights claims is that the latter happen when Indigenous Australians seek a grant of title to land from the Commonwealth, state or territory governments.
  • Land rights will normally be passed down to future generations in a way that recognises the community’s traditional connection that country.