The lease over the island in the Melville Bay, Northern Territory was negotiated by Gumatj leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu. The lease arrangement includes a $2 million advance payment, $2.5 million to be spend on town projects and improvement, $200,000 towards the costs of operating the new town and $5 million of investment into housing for local workers.
Discussion over the lease has been occurring for over a decade with Tony Abbott directly intervening in the planning as Prime Minister in 2014.
Mr Yunupingu said the deal was “the culmination of many years of hard work and an important milestone in the future of our community.”
He explained that the deal would “act as a springboard for further economic development and a foundation to build wealth for our people”. As the lease secures tenure of the land it opens the possibility of third party investment to the township, which was home to 155 people as of 2011.
The lease was agreed upon by the entire Gumatj clan of the Yolngu nation and was signed off on by the Northern Land Council. Samuel Bush-Blanasi, the chairman of the Northern Land Council said the deal gave traditional owners “the power to determine their own destiny and development”.
Under the model established by the agreement, a corporation run by traditional owners will hold the lease, giving them the authority to grant any subleases of the land and enforce the terms of the lease. This model differs from similar arrangements in place on Groote Eylandt and in the Tiwi Islands where the leases are held by a Federal Government bureaucrat.
“This is our initiative, not some program created by government,” Mr Yunupingu told the Australian.
He hopes that the lease will encourage “business development and job creation in the community, as work is the key to a person’s future. Aboriginal people must be responsible for the development of their own communities and their own destiny.”
Through the model of self-determination the corporation will manage alcohol consumption, ban gambling and kava, and attempt to tackle abuse of marijuana.
A structure will be put in place before Christmas to begin the planning and consultation process and to establish a vision for the future of Gunyangara.