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Date: Tue, 29 Sep 98 12:40:53 CDT
From: bghauk@berlin.infomatch.com (Brian Hauk)
Subject: Australia: Aborigines Win Land Back
Organization: BCTEL Advanced Communications
Article: 44172
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.26342.19980930121711@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Aborigines Win Land Back

By Doug Cooper, Militant,
Vol. 62, no. 35, 5 October 1998

MUTAWINTJI, Australia - In the culmination of a 15-year fight, more than 500 Aborigines and their supporters from around eastern Australia gathered at newly renamed Mutawintji National Park September 5 for a day of celebration to mark the return of its 76,000 hectares (188,000 acres) to the traditional owners.

This is my mother's mother's people's land. Us Wiimpatja [Aboriginal people] don't exploit our land. You stole our land, said Walpra Thompson, as he welcomed the crowd in the Paakantji language. This place is just part of what we have. Getting Mutawintji back is a start. It's good that we are moving towards reconciliation. You invaded, now you recognize us.... Soon we will have our sovereignty. Thompson is a young man from Wilcannia, one of the key places from which the fight was organized, two hours' drive to the east.

The park is situated northeast of Broken Hill in outback New South Wales, a 14 hours' drive from Sydney. It is the first of five parks in the state to be returned to Aboriginal people by the state government. There is no time frame for the return of the other four.

Communal title recognized

Recognition of communal inalienable freehold title to the land was conditional on the park being leased to the government for a minimum of 30 years. Access will remain open to all. Similar arrangements have been won elsewhere in Australia in the last decade or so.

A majority of the new Board of Management of the park will be Aboriginal owners. The board will also include a representative of the National Parks and Wildlife Service as well as a nearby station owner, or grazier, and others. An affirmative action training and hiring program will ensure that the majority of jobs now go to Aboriginal people, who have also won hunting, fishing, and food-gathering rights on this land.

Participants came from as far away as Arnhem Land and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in the Northern Territory, Tasmania, Cape York in far north Queensland, Victoria, and Sydney, as well as outback towns in a few hundred kilometer radius. State Labor Premier Robert Carr, Deputy Premier and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Andrew Refshauge, and others spoke.

Mark Sutton, of the Mutawintji Local Aboriginal Land Council and the chair of the event, explained, In [September] 1983 Paakantji community members from Broken Hill, Wilcannia, and Menindee came out and blockaded the main entrance to the park to protest the lack of involvement of Aboriginal people in how it was run.

The park is famous for its rock art, especially hand stencils, engravings, and other examples of Aboriginal culture dating back thousands of years. The area was a meeting place for different tribes from the far broader region for generations. Sutton noted that the fight for the return of Mutawintji has allowed us to rekindle our culture.

Maureen O'Donnell, one of the traditional owners, told the crowd, We put our point of views across. They weren't outrageous, they were simply the truth for Aboriginal people fighting for their land. We have to walk together. We have to have a say in our land. Pointing to children playing in the red soil in front of the stage, she said, I think we can be all proud today, as I am, that my grandchildren are playing in their own sand-which was always theirs, but we just had to make the white fella see it.

O'Donnell, who was born in Wilcannia and now lives in Broken Hill, told the Militant, It's a milestone. We finally got government people to listen to us and understand where we're coming from about our ties with the land and the spiritual meaning of Mutawintji to us.... Although we had to lease it back, still, we'll have a majority say at meetings.

Aborigines in the Mutawintji area were dispossessed of their land in the 1860s as the sheep- and cattle-grazing pastoral industry expanded westward. As in other parts of Australia, many of their descendants maintained some ties to the land through employment on outback pastoral properties into the 1960s, when mechanization pushed most off the land.

1983 blockade

The 1983 blockade was part of the new wave of land rights struggles around the country that had risen again beginning in the 1960s. Wiimpatja were especially angry that sacred sites at Mutawintji had become prime tourist attractions with no regard for their significance to a living people.

The blockade lasted about a week. There were hundreds of people, Aboriginal people, from all over New South Wales: Dubbo, Wilcannia, Broken Hill, Menindee and in between, O'Donnell said. People all came together to help the Mutawintji people to do the blockade and fight for those things for Aboriginal people. There were also solicitors [lawyers] and doctors and others from the white community who came out here and gave us their support and stood by us in the blockade.

By the mid to late 1980s Mutawintji Land Council members were conducting tours at the park.

William Bates, the chairman of the Mutawintji Local Aboriginal Land Council, noted especially how the last 18 months of direct lease negotiations had gone. We fought for our rights.... We've had our problems with National Parks, we've had our blues [arguments], we've had our disagreements, but I'm proud to stand here and say it's all worked out well. We're not going to be selfish, we're going to share this land.

In his speech before handing title over to Bates, Premier Carr said, In giving back this national park, we return to the traditional owners not only their lands but their dignity, their pride, their history. We give them back some of what they have lost in the last 210 years.

Messages of support were received, including from Jacqui Katona on behalf of Mirrar elder Yvonne Margarula. The Mirrar are reaching out in the fight against a second uranium mine under construction on their land in Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory and have won national and international support. Congratulations to all your mob for achieving a significant land rights victory. The struggle for country continues, Katona wrote. The term country is used to refer to land specific to a particular Aboriginal people. Three Aboriginal representatives of the Board of Management of Uluru-Kata Tjuta made the 1,100-mile trip and gave greetings.

Ron Poulsen, a textile worker and the Communist League candidate for Senate in the October 3 federal election, attended. He told the Militant, This victory is thanks to the courage and determination of Aboriginal people themselves. Without those things it would never have happened. They refused to be `extinct.' The story of this fight deserves to be told widely. It will inspire Aboriginal and other working people that gains are won only when we resist and fight.

Edward Bugmy, originally from Wilcannia, who works as a tree lopper in Broken Hill, said his mother had been involved in the fight before she died. He told the Militant, I reckon it's good.... Most of the people that started the fight off, there's not too many of them left alive. It's up to the young ones to carry on.