Tyrone Murray, from Cherbourg, and Damon Anderson, Brisbane, with Durell Waterton, 10, Cherbourg … all three were part of the Wakka Wakka dance troupe

April 12, 2022

The Australian legal system has finally recognised what Wakka Wakka people have always known … it’s their land.

It has been a more than two decades-long struggle for recognition but on Tuesday the Federal Court of Australia recognised the Wakka Wakka People as Native Title Holders over approximately 1178 sq km of land and waters within their traditional country.

The Federal Court convened in a crowded marquee on Jack O’Chin Oval in Cherbourg.

Wakka Wakka people from across Queensland gathered to hear Justice Darryl Rangiah hand down judgments recognising the Wakka Wakka People as Native Title Holders over parcels of land spanning from the north-eastern half of the Bunya Mountains National Park to near Paradise Dam.

The Court heard that Wakka Wakka People had maintained an unwavering connection to country and culture despite a traumatic history.

The history of European incursions into Wakka Wakka country from 1843 onwards were detailed to the Court by Queensland solicitor Craig Reiach, for Queensland South Native Title Services, representing the applicants.

Mr Reiach spoke of the bloody frontier conflict, murder, dispersal of Aboriginal people and the fringe camps established at Eidsvold, Taabinga, Ideraway and Ban Ban.

Hundreds of Aboriginal people from all over Queensland were forcibly removed from their traditional country and interned at Barambah Mission, later renamed Cherbourg.

Mr Reiach  spoke of the “institutional cruelty” fostered by the State and the effects on Wakka Wakka People of 180 years of dispossession of their lands.

Handing down his decisions, Justice Rangiah said the court was not “giving” anything to Wakka Wakka People.

“The court is simply recognising what the Wakka Wakka People have always known, that this has always been Wakka Wakka land,” the judge said.

Justice Rangiah said it was a great pity so many people who had lived through the dark days at Cherbourg were not around to see the judgment.

“It is a day to remember your ancestors and the old people who did not live to see this day,” he said.

The judge, who toured The Ration Shed ahead of the sittings, said the history documented in the museum had reminded him of the apartheid regime in South Africa.

“It is a tribute to the culture, to the strength and vitality of the Wakka Wakka people that you continue the same traditions on the same land as those of your ancestors from 50,000 or 60,000 years ago,” he said.

Original applicants to the Native Title claims, who had not lived long enough to see the outcome, were recalled with sadness by many of the speakers after the Court closed.

Wakka Wakka Traditional Owner Aunty Patti Bond said it had been a long journey for recognition, through times that had been hard and harsh.

However, Wakka Wakka families had enjoyed each other’s company and continued to go fishing and hunting and learning traditional ways, despite being forbidden to speak their language.

PBC director Aunty Yuna Chapman, from Eidsvold, said the judgment had come about through Wakka Wakka people “staying the course and telling the truth” however there was still more to be done.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships Minister Craig Crawford said the landmark decision came after a long journey to land justice.

“We need to acknowledge that this moment is a shining light in what is a deep, dark, history of dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this State,’’ Mr Crawford said.

“Every move we make to right the wrongs of the past, such as acknowledging the native title rights of traditional owners, we take a positive step on the path to truth-telling, healing and true reconciliation.”

South Burnett mayor Brett Otto congratulated the Wakka Wakka People on the historic occasion.

“It gives me great pleasure to acknowledge the Wakka Wakka People as the traditional, and now, legally recognised Native Titleholders,” he said.

Mayor Otto paid tribute to Wakka Wakka family representatives and other First Nations elders and family members present.

“Council looks forward to working closely together to build stronger connections into the future,” he said.

Tuesday’s determinations covered the Native Title applications Wakka Wakka People #3 and Part A of Wakka Wakka People #4.

Wakka Wakka People now have exclusive Native Title rights and interests over approximately 97 per cent of the Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council area plus numerous parcels of land throughout the boundary area.

Part B of Wakka Wakka People #4, which covers portions of the Central and North Burnett, is still under negotiation.

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Federal Court judgments handed down on Tuesday:

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Federal Court Justice Darryl Rangiah handed down his judgments concerning Wakka Wakka 3, Parts A & B; and Wakka Wakka 4, Part A, in a temporary courtroom erected in a marquee on Jack O’Chin Oval in Cherbourg
The Wakka Wakka Dancers performed both before the court sitting and after the judgments were handed down
Patti Bond, accompanied by other Native Title applicants, welcomed visitors to Wakka Wakka country
Bligh family members, from left, Robyn Cannedy, Brisbane; Pam (Dinnawhan) White, Sunshine Coast; and Suzanne Thompson, central-west Queensland
Iris, Nevada and Bill Glenbar, from Widgee
Minister Craig Crawford with Cherbourg Mayor
Elvie Sandow
Justice Darryl Rangiah with a copy of one of the Consent Determinations
It should be a day to remember for the many Wakka Wakka youngsters who were watching on
Danielle Appo, from Brisbane, with her grandmother, Aunty Yvonne Chapman, Eidsvold
Jarrabah Davidson with his three-month-old twins Jarrakai and Jahzeikel
South Burnett mayor Brett Otto with Gympie mayor Glen Hartwig
Aunty Yvonne Chapman, from Eidsvold, with North Burnett mayor Les Hotz
Mayor Brett Otto with Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council mayor Elvie Sandow
From left, Cherbourg deputy mayor Tom Langton, South Burnett deputy mayor Gavin Jones, SBRC CEO Mark Pitt, Cr Danita Potter, Cr Scott Henschen and CASC CEO Chatur Zala
Aneta Dodd (Mgurr Narlee), from Gayndah, is another proud Wakka Wakka woman
Cherbourg Radio’s Harold Chapman and Michael Monk livestreamed the court proceedings and speeches
Watching on from the grandstand were, back row, from left, William Button, Sally, Sarah and Melissa Stewart and Margaret Cobbo; front row, Lance Hill, Shania and Les Stewart, and Jean Cobbo
Cedric Law, who lives in the Ny-Ku Byun Elders Village at Cherbourg, was helped to attend the ceremony by his granddaughter Priscilla Law, Brisbane
Justice Darryl Rangiah handed out copies of the Determinations to each of the Native Title applicants
Wakka Wakka applicants and family members after the judgments were handed down
Sharon Beggs, Wondai; former Cherbourg mayor Arnold Murray, Tanya Alberts, Wondai and Gordon Wragge, Cherbourg
Mayor Elvie Sandow presented Justice Darryl Rangiah with a small gift at the end of proceedings
Native Title applicants Stephen Pickering and Patricia Bond … the other applicants were Florence Bell, Michael Bond Snr, James Chapman, Gary Cobbo, Marissa Cobbo, Shane Dynevor Jnr, Robert Lacey, Edwin James Mi Mi, Carl Simpson, Irene Simpson, Cheryl Smith, Sidney Smith, Katrina Watson and Robert West (on behalf of the Wakka Wakka people)
Kevin Smith, CEO of Queensland South Native Title Services, hands a commemorative plaque to applicant Shane Dynevor Jnr
More of the applicants pose with the commemorative plaque
A large crowd gathered in the marquee on the football oval or sat in the stands to watch and listen

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Gallery Of Photos

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Raw video of the crowd’s reaction after the Native Title judgments were handed down:

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Speakers after the handing down of the judgment included Aunty Patti Bond (who also read out a statement from Michael Bond), Mayor Elvie Sandow (Cherbourg), Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships Craig Crawford, Mayor Brett Otto (South Burnett), Mayor Les Hotz (North Burnett), Cr Dan Stewart (Gympie), Yuna Appo (Chapman), from Eidsvold; PBC director Winston Mi Mi, Stanwell CEO Michael O’Rourke, QSNTS CEO Kevin Smith, Aunty Cynthia Button and Aunty Jenny Thompson

* * *

Footnote: Native title cannot be claimed in areas where it has been extinguished, such as privately owned land (residential freehold and privately owned freehold farms), residential, commercial or community purpose leases, public work areas such as schools, roads or hospitals; and pastoral or agricultural leases that grant exclusive possession.

Native title can be claimed on vacant Crown land which is unoccupied or unallocated; some State Forests, National Parks and public reserves; inland waters;  some leases, such as non-exclusive pastoral and agricultural leases; and some land held for Aboriginal people. It can only be claimed in areas where it has not been extinguished.

There has been a long history of native title claims in the South and North Burnett areas, dating back to 1997. Four previous claims on behalf of various groups have either been discontinued, dismissed or struck out.

A Prescribed Body Corporate (PBC) is a corporation nominated by the common law holders to hold their determined Native Title rights and interests. The Act requires that the Court must determine whether the Native Title is to be held on trust, and if so, by whom. The Wakka Wakka Native Title Aboriginal Corporation has been recognised as the Prescribed Body Corporate.

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2 Responses to "Always Was, Always Will Be …"

  1. So happy to see the Native Title recognised for the Wakka Wakka People. A very small step towards healing a very great injustice dealt to our Indigenous people. Congratulations to all the petitioners on a job well done.

  2. I’m glad to see the Wakka Wakka people winning the fight for their country. Congratulations one mob.

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