Traditional owners from Uleperte and Uleralkwe estate groups received Aboriginal freehold title at a ceremony in Santa Teresa, about 80 kilometres from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, Monday.
They had been fighting to reclaim a 110,000 hectare area for 36 years.
NT Portion 4208, as it is known, was a part of the North-West Simpson Desert claim lodged by the Central Land Council 36 years ago, but was not recommended a grant because there was not enough evidence.
The cause of traditional owners only progressed in 2009 when in the course of research for a repeat claim of the North-West Simpson Desert, the sacred Wake site was discovered on the Uleperte estate.
Based on this new evidence, then-Aboriginal land commissioner Howard Olney suggested that the Australian government consider handing back the section in his 'Simpson Desert Land Claim Stage IV' report.
The Central Land Council also cites that Dreaming Tracks through the area showed the owners’ connection to the land.
Despite this, it was not included in the 18,000 square kilometer Simpson Desert title in 2011.
The Central Land Council responded by entering negotiations with the Northern Territory and Australian governments to convince them to hand it over. By 2014 Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion announced NT Portion 4208 would be handed back to traditional owners under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976.
Former Central Land Council chair Lindsay Bookie, who gave evidence about the traditional owners cultural links to their country during the case hearings, says the title will help to “control visitors’ behaviour” in the area because they are now required to lodge an application for a permit.
“We want them to keep our country clean and not chuck their rubbish around like some travellers have done,” he says.
“They’ve got to look after the country, we’ve all got to do it.”
Mr Scullion told the historic ceremony at Santa Teresa on Monday that it was “great” to recognise the area as Aboriginal land.
“I acknowledge the importance it has to the traditional owners, particularly the many important sacred sites,” he says.
“This confirms to the traditional owners what has always been and what they have always known – that this is Aboriginal land.”
Freehold land is fully owned by the owner, and registered as freehold title, meaning the owner can use the land as they wish providing they comply with the law and any planning requirements set out.
Freehold owners can sell and lease the land, build a home or business on it and use it as security to borrow money for a home or business, according to the government.