The Yaegl people made history today after becoming the first group in New South Wales to have their native title rights recognised over the ocean.
At an on-country hearing at Yamba, the Federal Court recognised the Yaegl people's rights extend out to 200 metres east of the mean low water mark from Woody Head in the north to Wooli in the south.
NTSCORP CEO Natalie Rotumah hopes today's decision will set a precedent.
"For us, we believe this is precedent setting. We have an extensive coastline, the South Coast native title claim has just been filed, all groups along coast see today's decision as a predecent," she told NITV News.
"If Yaegl people can do it, anyone can do it."
The positive determination means the group will have the right to access the area, the right to use resources, and the right to maintain and protect places of significance.
Yaegl applicant Billy Walker says the determination will allow Yaegl people to carry out their traditional rights.
"This gives Yaegl people the right to fish, to gather oysters, to get pippies and do other cultural activities along the shores of Yaegl," he told NITV News.
He says the decision was a poignant moment in their journey.
"It's been a great success, but also very emotional. This was twenty years in the making," he said.
Mr Walker's mother, Aunty Della Walker, was one of the original applicants, along with elder Aunty Joyce Clague.
"For mum not to be here, it's not sad because I know she is in spirit here today. It's emotional, but other Yaegl members spoke of them and they were acknoweledged."
18-year battle to have rights recognised
The determination comes two years after the Yaegl people won an 18-year battle to have their native title rights and interests recognised in the land-based part of their claim.
The Federal Court granted the group their traditional rights over an area of land on the north-coast, in the longest running native title dispute before the court.
The Yaegl Aboriginal Land Council's original claim, made in November 1996, was for land in the Lower Clarence region between Harwood and the area where the Clarance river meets the ocean. This was revised in 2011 when a claim was lodged to the National Native Title Tribunal for around 1,400 square kilometres of land in the Clarence Valley.
At the time, Federal Justice Jago said it was a shame the matter took so long to resolve.
"That we have finally reached this milestone, belated as it is, is a testament to the unity, determination and strength of the Yaegl people," she said.
Today, the Court also recognised Yaegl people's sacred site, the Dirrangun, located at the mouth of the Clarence River.
But it came with a compromise of reducing the usual three nautical mile radius for native title claims over sea, but Billy Walker was relieved to have their Dreaming site protected.
"To us, it's iconic. Now, the site will no longer be threatened, destroyed or desecrated by any other stakeholders," he said.
The determination saw about 300 people come together to witness the momentous occasion at Pilot Hill.
The gathering included state and local members, lawyers, community members and members of neighbouring claim groups, such as the Western Bundjalung group who won their native title two days earlier.
Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion says decisions, like today's, finally recognises the traditional owners.
“These important determinations mean that the traditional owners of this land can finally live on and have their ongoing traditional practices recognised by Australian law under the Native Title Act 1993,” he said.
Natalie Rotumah says the determination puts to bed the twenty-year fight.
"This now means that they (Yaegl) can truly embrace their future, they can look at management, protection, and just the recognition that they are Yaegl people" she told NITV News.
"They have cultural obligations, they now get to continue to teach their stories for future generations," she said.
Mr Walker says it was great to see elders together at a time of celebration.
"To see the old people now and other nations coming together, and now the local Yaegl, laughing and smiling together makes it all worthwhile," he said.