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Proud day at Pigeon Hole

Posted: Thu, June 02, 2011

Jimmy Wavehill with the documents delivered by Justice John Mansfield that declare Native Title recognition to his land. Picture: Bob Gosford

Traditional owners from across the Victoria River District gathered at Pigeon Hole community in 2011 to celebrate the Native Title consent determinations which cover six pastoral leases in the area. The Federal Court also recognised the Native Title holders of a further six cattle properties which lie near the NT and WA border.

THE bone-jarring track into the community is just a 30 kilometre stretch, but the sheer rugged nature of the country ensures the drive from the pothole-ridden Buntine Highway takes around 40 minutes.

Welcome to Pigeon Hole community, situated smack-bang in the middle of the iconic Northern Territory’s Victoria River region – some of the most productive cattle growing country in the nation.

This, though, is not any normal day in the tiny Aboriginal community – which was set up as a community living area and excised from the surrounding Pigeon Hole Station.

Today, in fact, is a very special day and Pigeon Hole is set to welcome some very special visitors.

Arriving on a chartered flight from Darwin, the Federal Court Judge Justice John Mansfield and an entourage of lawyers left the big smoke behind to deliver news many Pigeon Hole residents had waited too long to hear.

Huddled under an ageing shade structure in the middle of Pigeon Hole community, representatives of Aboriginal groups from across the region, listened intently as Justice Mansfield delivered Native Title recognition to traditional owners of six pastoral leases.

Pigeon Hole, Montejinni East, Montejinni West, Camfield, Killarney and Birrimba stations cover more than 15,000 square kilometres of prime grazing country – an area traditional owner Jimmy Wavehill knows better than most.

A member of the historic Wave Hill Walk-Off 45 years ago, which led to equal pay for Aboriginal stockmen and helped pioneer the land rights movement, Mr Wavehill said the Native Title consent determinations would help build a better a future for Aboriginal peoples living in the VRD.

“This is the recognition we’ve been waiting so long for,” Mr Wavehill said.

“We are the traditional people from this country and now it’s written down on that piece of paper and no-one can argue about it.”

The non-exclusive Native Title rights permit traditional owners to to hunt, fish, camp and conduct ceremonies on their ancestral lands.

Mr Wavehill said this would allow the Aboriginal peoples of the region to preserve their ancient songs and stories for future generations.

“We really need to keep our culture strong and having Native Title will help this happen.”

The consent determinations, brokered by the Northern Land Council, the NT Government and pastoralists, eliminated the need for a lengthy and costly legal process.

Northern Land Council CEO Mr Kim Hill said the consent determination covering a cluster of pastoral leases would become a template for settling Native Title claims across the Northern Territory.

“It just goes to show what can be achieved when all relevant parties take a good-will approach into these discussions,” he said.

“Hopefully we’ll see more cluster consent determinations handed down in the next year or so, reducing the number of unsettled Native Title claims in the NLC region.

Pastoralists say the consent determinations will provide them with more certainty in running their businesses and hope to see more Aboriginal people working in the cattle industry.

Two days prior to the Pigeon Hole celebration, traditional owners from around the Northern Territory-Western Australia border gathered at the spectacular Keep River National Park for a Native Title consent determination, which covered a further 16,000 square kilometres.