The longest-running native title claim in New South Wales has been resolved after almost two decades
11 Dec 2017 - 4:46 PM  UPDATED 11 Dec 2017 - 4:46 PM

It was the last pre-2000 claim left on the books in the state. Now after 19 years, the Gumbaynggirr people are celebrating. 

"It fills my heart with pride and hope to see native title recognised once more. Thank you all for coming along today to share in our celebrations," said Richard Pacey, a Gumbaynggirr elder. 

It's in the small town of Urunga, on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, that his people were finally recognised. 

"Today’s [Friday] determination of native title means that we can continue to practice our culture, take our young fellas out to the headlands and beaches to get a feed, [and] make sure that our sacred sites are protected. That means a lot to us all and its why my heart is full of hope," he said. 

More than 300 people gathered in the tiny town, on Friday, to hear the Federal Court rule that Gumbaynggirr people have native title rights over 130 hectares of land and sea. 

It's the second time the Gumbaynggirr people have had their native title recognised. The first was at Nambucca Heads, over an area known as Gaagal Wanggaan (South Beach) National Park in 2014. 

Now, they're rejoicing once again. 

Hayden Strong is a Gumbaynggirr descendent. Ever since he was a young boy, he's watched on as his elders battled through one of the longest journeys of recognition. 

"I believe it was mum’s native title journey that helped her bring the joy to the stories she told. And its because of those stories and the way she told them that I can stand up here with pride and speak about the claim today," he said. 

He says moments like this have the ability to change people's lives. 

"It's changed my life, my mum’s life, our families' lives. It has the ability to bring out the best in people and the best in our community. Events like this bring out the best in our Gumbaynggirr Nation." 

Margaret Boney, who filed the claim in 1998, was living in a camp on the land until she died in 2007. 

NTSCORP CEO, Natalie Rotumah, says Ms Boney fought 'with an ocean-sized heart to protect the land of the Gumbaynggirr people.' 

"I know Gumbaynggirr People are happy that Aunty Marg had the vision and energy, as Elders do, to use native title and land rights to protect this sacred land," she says. 

Many other original applicants passed away before they could witness the triumph of their hard work. 

"Uncle Tom Kelly passed away some time ago along this journey. And in August we lost Uncle Barry Phyball and last week Uncle Eddie Briggs, strong Gumbaynggirr men and staunch supporters of this claim. My heart breaks as I say this," Ms Rotumah says.  

Over the 19 years, the matter was amended a number of times to modify the claim area and replace the applicant.

It was also subject to a number of land claims made under the Land Rights Act 1983 (NSW) which caused significant complications to its resolution. 

In 2015, the Gumbayniggrr People decided not to enter an Indigenous Land Use Agreement, intended to resolve the matter and historical land claim, and instead sought a native title determination. 

NTSCORP CEO Michael Bell says the determination is significant on a number of levels. 

"One that should not be overlooked is the fact that this claim is the first in NSW to have the rights to use natural resources for any purpose recognised, including a commercial purpose," he says.

It makes the Gumbaynggirr determination unparalleled in recognising commercial rights. 

"The recognition of commercial rights means that native title isn’t just about the symbolism, although that’s important. It's also about giving the mob an economic foundation to support culture and family. And there’s nothing more important than that," Mr Bell says. 

And Gumbaynggirr descendents, like Hayden Strong, are excited about what the future holds. 

"The possibilities are endless.  We have a great opportunity here. A firm foundation has been set up and its up to us to build on it." 

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