Nearly four decades after they first lodged their claim Wampaya Traditional Owners in the Barkly region of the Northern Territory have finally had their land returned.
Traditional Owners in the Barkly Tablelands in the Northern Territory have welcomed the handback to the Gagaguwaja Aboriginal Land Trust.
The six square kilometre parcel of land was handed back to Traditional Owners and their families at a ceremony at Lake Mary Ann, north of Tennant Creek on Thursday.
The land claim over the area was lodged back in 1983 under the Northern Territory Land Rights Act.
Northern Land Council Chair, Samuel Bush-Blanasi said the handback was long-overdue.
“This is a bitter-sweet and long overdue day, when the Wampaya people and clan groups associated with Country right across the Barkly Tablelands country get a small parcel of their traditional lands back as Aboriginal Land under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act1976.”
“It is a bitter day because the land won back is so small. But it is a sweet day because any day the Northern Land Council can help get land back is a good day,” Mr Bush-Blanasi said.
Traditional Owner Brenton Stacey told NITV News that the land should never have been taken away.
“It should’ve been with us all the way through, but it’s good that we’ve got it back now so our young people connect through to Country.”
“This place was originally a ceremony area, they’ve got to stay like that for life. We’ve got to take that back now.
"I spoke to the minister, we need water and living areas and employment to make it viable for us to live in the area. But it's a great story and our old people will be looking down on us very proud.
"They can rest in peace. What they asked for we got back.'"
NLC member and cultural advisor Jack Green told the handback ceremony that the 37-year wait was too long.
“Too many of our old people who struggled and strived to get that land back have passed away. We have to honour their lives and their fight for their land. They kept our laws, our language and our lives strong. Without them we’d have nothing,” said Mr Green.
The Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt attended the ceremony and delivered the Deeds of Title to the Gagaguwaja Aboriginal Land Trust.
Mr Wyatt told NITV News the grant of inalienable freehold land ownership recognises the Traditional Owners enduring cultural connection to their land.
“Anthony Lagoon, or Karrkarrkuwaja, has many sites and stories of significance, and this Deed provides a strong form of title so the Wampaya people can protect these and realise the benefits of land ownership," Mr Wyatt said.
"We will continue as a federal government to work very closely with Indigenous Australians to ensure that their hopes and aspirations, not only in land titles, but other economic opportunities that come with holding land that provides a better future."