Aboriginal father and son

This land is our land – federal court declares native title

CHEERS and tears of jubilation filled a temporary federal court room on Fraser Island yesterday (October 24, 2014) as Justice Berna Collier officially recognised the Butchulla people as the island’s native title holders.

It was an emotional day for the 450 Butchulla people who gathered to witness the historic occasion.

Butchulla elder Fiona Foley said the decision had been 18 years in the making.

Butchulla Native Title

Justice Berna Collier from the Federal Court of Australia receives a “thank you” kiss from Butchella elder Malcolm Burns.

“We’re very excited to finally get this recognition and see so many Butchulla people here at once,” Aunty Fiona said.

“I never thought this day would happen in my lifetime.”

Yesterday’s Native Title Consent Determination recognised the ongoing traditional laws and customs of the Butchulla people, while also specifying  native title rights and interests over about 1640 square kilometers of national park.

Excluded zones include Kingfisher Bay and Eurong resorts, Orchid Beach and Happy Valley.

Some of the Butchulla people’s rights and interests included maintaining areas of cultural significance, teaching and participating in rituals and ceremonies.

Queensland South Native Title Services CEO Kevin Smith said this momentous occasion closed the chapter on a long struggle for legal recognition and opened another that involved the management and leverage of recognised legal rights.

“Today is a day of celebration but the work starts tomorrow with what the Butchulla people will do with their native title,” Mr Smith said.

“It could be as simple as coming for song and dance or it could be working on eco-tourism.”

Mr Smith said a decision on the island’s name would be made some time in the future.

“Locals might still know it as Fraser Island but affectionately the traditional name K’Gari needs to catch on,” Mr Smith said.

Son says Aunty Olga here in spirit

AUNTY Olga Miller’s spirit was sure to be smiling over yesterday’s proceedings, according to her proud son Glen Miller.

“I’m a member of the Wondunna clan and we’re in the middle of Wondunna country now,” he said.

“Mum filed the first native title claim on Fraser Island 18 years ago and the Butchulla clan filed a year later.

“We’ve been waiting 18 years for this decision, so it’s a pretty historic day.

“As the judge said, it’s sad that some of those elders are not here today to share this with us but I’m sure they’re with us in spirit.

“Ever since I was a child and could understand English, Mum talked about the island and what it meant.

“Finally Butchulla people are recognised as traditional owners. I know it’s symbolic but symbolism means a lot to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people alike.

“This decision gives us a foothold on which to go forward.

“Unfortunately the native title claim process is ridiculously lengthy, so to finally get this under such difficult circumstances makes today even more special.”

The late Aunty Olga Miller was a well-known Fraser Coast historian, author and artist. Her work is featured in many of the Fraser Coast’s public places.

Native title agreement rights

The Butchulla People’s Native Title Consent Determination includes non-exclusive rights to:

  • Access, be present on, move about on and travel over the area;
  • Camp, and live temporarily on the area as part of camping, and for that purpose to build temporary shelters;
  • Hunt, fish and gather on the land and waters of the area for personal, domestic and non-commercial communal purposes;
  • Take, use, share and exchange natural resources from the land and waters for personal, domestic and non-commercial communal purposes;
  • Take and use the water for personal, domestic and non-commercial communal purposes;
  • Conduct, and participate in, rituals and ceremonies, including those relating to initiation, birth and death;
  • Be buried on and bury native title holders within the area;
  • Teach the physical, cultural and spiritual attributes of the area;
  • Hold meetings in the area;
  • Light fires for personal and domestic purposes including cooking, but not for the purpose of hunting or clearing vegetation.

Originally published in the Fraser Coast Chronicle, Saturday, October 25, 2014.

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