• The Western Bundjalung people of northern New South Wales have been granted native title by the Federal Court. (NTSCORP)
After almost six years, the Western Bundjalung people of northern New South Wales, have been granted their native title by the Federal Court.
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NITV News
30 Aug 2017 - 2:29 PM  UPDATED 31 Aug 2017 - 8:37 PM

Federal Court Justice Jayne Jago handed down a positive determination of native title for the Western Bundjalung people at a Federal Court hearing held at Tabulam, on the New South Wales north-coast.

The determination recognises the group's traditional rights and interests, including the right to fish, hunt, gather, camp and protect sites of significance, for more than 800 areas of land. 

It also recognises the Western Bundjalung people as the Traditional Owners of the claim area. 

Western Bundjalung claimant, Terry Robinson, said the outcome had been a long time coming. 

"It was an honour to attend the hearing at Tabulam. It has been a long fight begun by my grandparents and the other Elders of that generation for recognition as Western Bundjalung Traditional Owners," he said.  

The hearing took place at the Tabulam Race Course, which transformed into a Federal Court room for Welcome to Country and traditional smoking ceremony, with about 400 people in attendance. 

CEO of Native Title Services Corp, the state representative body, Natalie Rotumah says it's a fantastic result for the group. 

"They made the decision over six years ago to withdraw many previous claims and come together to file a unified application. The combined strength of Western Bundjalung people has helped this claim get across the line," she said. 

The Western Bundjalung claim area covers more than 5,000 square kilometres and contains 24 national parks, nature reserves and state conservation areas. It includes the Aboriginal settlements at Baryulgil, Malabugilmah, Jubullam Village and Jubal.

The claim was originally filed with the National Native Title Tribunal in 2011. 

Native Title: What does it mean and why do we have it?
The Native Title Act was first created 23 years ago and marks a historic moment in Australian law that changed the face of our land rights system.

Dr Ken Lum, NTSCORP Research Manager, said the group's evidence to prove their continuing connection to country was strong. 

"Numerous claimants gave affidavits about the connection to country including information about Dreaming stories and continuing cultural practices such as turtle diving," he said.

"Our research staff also prepared anthropological and historical reports assessing the strength of the evidence and how the cultural practices of Western Bundjalung people are governed by their traditional law and customs.

The positive outcome means the Western Bundjalung people have rights under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) to be consulted and play an active role in how their country is managed.

The consent determination is just the first step for Western Bundjalung. The group have established the Ngullingah Jugun (Our Country) Aboriginal Corporation to manage their native tite rights and interests. The corporation will play a key role in representing Western Bundjalung people's interests in negotiations with government and private organisations. 

Claimant Graeme Walker, said the corporation will be used as a vehicle to have their rightful say about the management of their land. 

"Any businesses looking to do work in Western Bundjalung country should be coming to us first and we are looking forward to working with them," he said.

While Prescribed Body Corporates are intended to establish an economic base for native title holders on their country, they are not adequately funded by the Federal Government.  

Terry Robinson is honoured to be looking after his ancestors' country. 

"Our country, our Jugun, has looked after us and it is now our turn to look after country."

The Western Bundjalung determination will be only the tenth in NSW since the Native Title Act came into force in 1993.

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