“It took us 20 years, but we finally got it!” Native Title finally recognised in Pine Creek

Date: Apr 17, 2019

The Wagiman and Jawoyn Bolmo, Matjba and Wurrkbarbar groups have been recognised as the native title holders of the town of Pine Creek at a determination ceremony held on country, two decades after the first claim was lodged.

More than 160 people gathered at Heritage Park on 9 April 2019 as Justice White of the Federal Court recognised mostly exclusive native title in and around the town of Pine Creek, covering an area of approximately 12 square kilometres. It was the first time the Federal Court has sat in Pine Creek. 

It was a day of celebration for senior Wagiman Elder George Jabul Huddleston who, along with his brothers made some of the first claims to native title over Pine Creek. 

“It’s a really important thing. We like to get it back this country. I’m happy. For my mum and dad, my brothers I’m happy,” he said. “Of my four brothers, I am the only one left. I went four times for hearings to give evidence. I am happy to get back the land.”

Senior Wurrkbarbar woman Bessie Coleman said it had been a long battle but justice had finally been won.

“It took us 20 years, but we finally got it,” she said. “All the years I grew up in this town we had no voice. We finally got there. I learnt a lot from the senior women and men. They started it off. We finished it off.”

For the claimants and their families, the resolution of their native title claim over Pine Creek is an important milestone for three reasons.
Firstly, it recognises the traditional ownership of the Town of Pine Creek by the Wagiman people and the Jawoyn Matjba, Bolmo and Wurrkbarbar groups through their shared connection to the land.

Secondly, the determination recognises the native title claimants always had, and still have, a special relationship with, and traditional rights in, the land and waters of the claim area.

Thirdly, it provides the native title claimants with an opportunity to have input into any future uses of their country. It is also significant for the children and grandchildren of those persons who will carry this legacy into the future.

Mick Markham, Jawoyn elder, said the decision would bring certainty for the future of the town. “Thank you to our elders who fought this for 20 years. They started this. And it’s a special day of remembrance for them. This determination will free up a lot of the blocks here. People from the communities can move in and buy a block, and live in this town,” he said.

For the native title claimants, the determination marked the end of a long journey started by some of those who were present and many more who have since passed. A minute of silence was held to recognise those who have passed away since this process began.

“I would like to pay respects to the old ones who have passed and are not here to celebrate this achievement, to getting the land back after 20 years,” said Wagiman woman Elizabeth Sullivan.

“I celebrate this success and significant milestone in Wagiman history in knowing that Pine Creek and its surrounds have been returned to the Wagiman people.”
Ms Sullivan also paid tribute to NLC staff for their hard work in reaching this day.

“I would like to thank the Honourable Justice White for the return of our traditional lands under Native Title, and the NLC Legal representatives for their perseverance and commitment for pursuing this Native Title Claim on our behalf.

Exclusive possession native title is the highest recognition capable under Australian property law, giving Wagiman and Jawoyn Bolmo, Matjba and Wurrkbarbar native title holders the same rights as private land owners. Existing roads and private land will not be affected by the determination.
As well as exclusive native title, the determination also recognises a right to “access and take resources for any purpose” – i.e. including commercial purposes and not limited to personal or domestic purposes.

This right was first recognised in the Northern Territory in the town of Borroloola in August 2016.

The native title determination in Pine Creek marks the second time the Northern Territory has agreed to recognise this right by consent, following the town of Larrimah determination in October 2018.