'We can finally have our land back' - 28-year Native Title fight settled in Western Australia

By Mana Wikaire-Lewis

Image: Purnululu Elder Shirley Drill (left) and grandson, Kija ranger Joquaim Drill, on Country in Purnululu National Park, West Australia. Credit: Supplied/PR Image

Original story by NITV.

A deal between the Traditional Owners and the Western Australian government has given them sole native title rights to the Purnululu National Park.

The renowned Bungle Bungle Range is found in the world heritage-listed Kimberley National Park, which has been granted native title by the Federal Court to Purnululu and Gajangana Jaru claimmants.

According to the Kimberley Land Council, the Purnululu claim, which was initially filed in 1994, is the oldest native title claim still pending in Australia.

Purnululu Elder Shirley Drill welcomed the declaration, although she says it has taken too long to happen.

"I had black hair when this all started. I was asked questions over and over. Now it is finished and now we can finally have our land back.

"I want to stay out there on my Country. I want my children to stay out on Country."

Recent legislative changes that allow for the recognition of native title in conservation reserves, overriding any past extinguishment, made the deal possible.

Following the recognition earlier this year of the Yarnangu people's native title rights over the Pila Nature Reserve in the Gibson Desert, it is just the third such agreement in Australia and the second in WA.

The awarding of native title for exclusive ownership acknowledges the rights of Traditional Owners who speak the Kija, Jaru, and Malgnin language groups.

Tyronne Garstone, chief executive of the council, noted that the region had considerable cultural significance for the original inhabitants.

"This is indicative of the forward-looking approach that governments are now taking... and the mutual and community-wide benefits that stem from the recognition of Traditional Owners' ongoing connection to Country, their culture, and knowledge."

The Federal Court will hold a ceremonial sitting on country next May to recognise the agreement.