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Central Land Council

CLC Press Releases

30 May 2008
Seal the Mereenie Loop Road Now  ›› more
27 May 2008
Angela Pamela Negotiations  ›› more
9 May 2008
Angela Pamela and the native title process  ›› more
18 February 2008
Coalition should support permit system  ›› more
15 February 2008
Politicians threaten to derail fresh start  ›› more
22 January 2008
Police ignorance upsets Lajamanu community  ›› more
26 November 2007
Optimism for a fresh consensual approach on Aboriginal affairs  ›› more
21 November 2007
Concerns over Central Petroleum tactics  ›› more
 
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The Land is Always Alive

Warumungu

The story of the Warumungu people and their fight for land rights cannot be properly presented in this small book. The early white explorers described the Warumungu as a flourishing nation in the 1870s, but by 1915 the onslaught of invasion and reprisal had brought them to the brink of starvation. The reserve that was set aside for the Warumungu in 1892 was revoked in 1934 to make way for gold prospectors and they were shunted to new reserves which were later also revoked until by the 1960s they were pushed off their traditional land altogether. But the Warumungu would not give up.

They made their first written application for land in 1975 when the Rockhampton Downs Aboriginal community asked for their land back so they could run their own affairs. In 1978 the CLC lodged a claim under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act on behalf of the Warumungu. Their claim was one of the longest and hardest fought in the history of the Act. The Northern Territory tried to prevent the claim from proceeding by changing the status of the land under claim.

Land within town boundaries cannot be claimed, so in 1978 the Government enlarged the town boundaries of Tennant Creek to cover 750 square kilometres – the size of a major city. Land which has been alienated – sold or leased – cannot be claimed, so in 1982 the Government leased nine of the twelve areas under claim to a government-controlled corporation – a fact that they announced two days after the start of the hearing before Justice William Kearney in November 1982. The resulting litigations went all the way to the High Court and the hearing did not resume until March 1985 – this time before Aboriginal Land Commissioner Michael Maurice.

Maurice recommended the return of a large part of the claim in July 1988 – ten years after the claim was lodged. It was another three years before any part of the land was handed back and five years before most was returned. Although the land had been recommended for grant the claimants were required to negotiate with other land users, such as Tennant Creek Town Council, pastoralists, businesses and the Northern Territory Government, to ensure their interests weren't adversely affected.

The major issue was the land adjacent to the Tennant Creek town boundary: the claimants offered to give up a large area of this land in return for control over some important sacred sites. While the Town Council was willing to accept this offer, the Northern Territory Government was not and the negotiations dragged on for more than three years. Most of the land was handed back in four stages between May 1991 and July 1993. When the town boundary areas were returned in March 1993 former Aboriginal Land Commissioner Michael Maurice was asked to look back at the Warumungu land claim:

The problem with the Northern Territory Government then. was it didn't accept the underlying principles of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. It didn't accept that it was for the Commonwealth to determine the conditions on which Aboriginal people could acquire land in the Northern Territory, so its attitude was one of resistance.