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Laine Clark

Queensland native title claim recognised

A 25-year legal battle is finally over for the Wakka Wakka people after the Federal Court recognised their native title claims in southern Queensland.

However, their fight began in earnest almost 200 years ago, the court has heard.

The Federal Court has recognised the Wakka Wakka people’s native title claim for parcels of land and waters located west of Maryborough and Gympie and northeast of Dalby.

It covers a total of 1178 square kilometres including the site of Tuesday’s historic Federal Court hearing, the township of Cherbourg.

There was rousing applause from the packed gallery after the decision at Jack O’Chin Oval, ending a long wait.

The Wakka Wakka people, considered Queensland’s third largest Aboriginal community, filed their first native title claim in 1997.

“It is important to emphasise that the court is not giving the Wakka Wakka people anything,” Justice Darryl Rangiah said.

“The court is simply recognising that which the Wakka Wakka people have always known – that this has always been and will always be your land.”

But Justice Rangiah also acknowledged the Wakka Wakka people’s battle to maintain their identity since European settlers first colonised their land in the 1840s.

He cited the Cherbourg community itself which was first established in the early 1900s, with Aboriginal people forcibly relocated from Queensland and northern NSW to the settlement.

“It has been described as something like a concentration camp,” Justice Rangiah said.

They were used as slave labour, children were forcibly removed from families and authorities would punish those who used traditional language or customs, usually with floggings.

“It is a great pity that so many of you who lived through those dark times are not here today – those people should not be forgotten,” Justice Rangiah said.

“Despite dispossession of their land, frontier violence, segregations, assimilation attempts … you are still a strong and vibrant, traditional community.

“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.”

After growing up during the dark times, Wakka Wakka traditional owner Aunty Patti said the Federal Court decision confirmed their bright future.

“I experienced control of government policies. Even though our language was forbidden in the community, we got to experience … traditional ways of doing things with our family,” she said.

“That’s what we do today … passed down through generations. Wakka Wakka language is now being redeveloped in the schools.”

Some of those celebrating on Tuesday were among the original 1997 native title applicants.

“They are part of the living history of the survival of the Wakka Wakka people … against all odds,” said Craig Reiach of Queensland South Native Title Services, the Wakka Wakka people’s lawyers.

The claim covers parcels of land from Yarraman in the south to Childers in the north, including the towns of Kingaroy and Murgon, with further areas to be finalised.

“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,” Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships Minister Craig Crawford said.

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