Fifty-four years since the late Gurindji man, Vincent Lingiari, led hundreds of Indigenous stockmen in a walk-off at Wave Hill Station, native title rights have been recognised over the famous pastoral property.
On Tuesday, in a formal sitting of the Federal Court almost 800 kilometres south of Darwin, a native title determination was granted to Gurindji Traditional Owners and families of other Aboriginal station workers.
The title covers almost 5,500 square kilometres of land known as Jinbarak, including the Wave Hill Station formerly part of Vestey cattle group.
Jimmy Wavehill was 18-years-old when he joined his brother-in-law, Vincent Lingiari, in walking off the station where he worked, orchestrating one of the most significant moments in Australian history and triggering the Aboriginal Land Rights movement.
Surrounded by fellow veteran workers and their families, Mr Wavehill said the native title recognition will be positive for the community.
"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," Mr Wavehill said.
Party to negotiations
Back in 2016, the Central Land Council lodged the native title application in response to mining interests in the pastoral lease area.
While the station will continue to operate as a cattle station, native title holders will now be able to exercise their rights to hunt, gather and teach on the land and waters and to conduct cultural activities and ceremonies.
The land holding groups, including Jamangku, Japuwuny, Parlakuna-Palkinykarni and Yilyilyimawu, will also be part of exploration and mining negotiations, including possible royalties in future agreements.
Native title holder and Gurindji man, Matthew Algy, is now a stockman, and recalled the stories from his great, great grandfather,
"When I was young he told me that they walked off from here and when I grew older and I come down here I see this place – it made me think of my grandmother and my father and great great grandfather," Mr Algy said.
"I reckon they’d be happy for me to come back here and take a look at this place once again," he said.
"It’s very important for all of my people, all of my Countrymen, all the Gurindji peoples," Mr Algy said.
A future connection
The significance of the determination was especially felt by the grand daughter of Vincent Lingiari and Gurindji woman, Lisa Smiler.
She said it was "exciting and wonderful" to see families return to where it all began.
"It brings a lot of memories back for my family and our ancestors that walked off in 1966 from here and I’m so proud to be here today," Ms Smiler said.
Looking to the future, she believes the native title determination will help the next generation in connecting with their culture.
"Visiting Country of our ancestors that was here before, it’s a really good opportunity for our young ones to come our here and do bush walk and hunting," Ms Smiler said.
Justice Richard White delivered the determination in front of Traditional Owners and descendants.
He told the audience they wouldn't need to be reminded of the events that kicked off the land rights movement, but he made a point of acknowledging the significance of the actions of the stockmen involved in the Wave Hill Walk Off.
"It’s a particularly special and poignant occasion and that’s because it’s a major point and perhaps in one sense a completion of a journey which started in 1966," Justice White 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," Justice White said.