Ceremony marks historic land rights deal
By ANDY PARKS
THE Federal Court of Australia came to Woodenbong yesterday to officially recognise the Githabul people's native title rights over nine national parks and 13 State forests in the area.
Justice Catherine Branson presided over the makeshift courtroom, which was set up inside a marquee at the Woodenbong Showground in front of about 200 people.
It was an historic occasion, giving the Githabul people non-exclusive rights to practice their traditional laws and customs on 1120 square kilometres of land south of the Queensland border.
Traditional owner Doug Williams said he was honoured to have Justice Branson in Woodenbong, and for the opportunity to show her some of the country.
He took her to see Mount Lindesay, Dome Mountain, Beehive Mountain and other places of significance before the official ceremony.
"This is an important and significant day for us. It's been a hard, long journey, but we finally got there," he said.
Pastor Peter Walker gave a passionate speech, saying the 'consent determination' handed down by Justice Branson made history.
"Land is so important, also sacred. It's great to get it back," he said.
Mr Walker then asked everybody to join in a prayer, asking God to watch over the land.
The agreement will mean the Githabul people will have involvement in the management of national parks and reserves, consultation in State forests and protection of culturally significant areas.
There will also be employment opportunities and the transfer of 102 hectares of Crown land to freehold.
Native Title Tribunal member John Sosso, who mediated between all of the groups, congratulated all involved on their willingness to talk, listen and negotiate.
"Hopefully, this settlement will provide a platform for ongoing positive community relations built on mutual understanding and respect," he said.
It has been a long, hard road of negotiation, which began back in 1995 when the Githabul People lodged a claim over 140,600 hectares in Kyogle, Woodenbong, Tenterfield and into southern Queensland.