Title lands back where it belongs

April 8, 1997: It was a proud and historic moment yesterday for the Dunghutti people of Crescent Head on the NSW north coast and in victory they chose to remember the dispossession of their ancestors some 209 years ago.

The Dunghutti became the first Aborigines on the Australian mainland to be granted native title under the 1993 Native Title Act when the Federal Court determined that they possessed, occupied and enjoyed the land "to the exclusion of all others".

Some 60 Dunghutti elders joined claimant Ms Mary-Lou Buck, Kempsey May or Mr John Bowell, and NSW Attorney-General Mr Shaw, in the courtroom for the 45-minute hearing.

Proceedings were interrupted for a few minutes as Justice John Lockhart invited Aboriginal elders to come to the front of his packed courtroom so they could share in the proceedings.

He then ordered that, following the consent of all the parties in October last year, the Federal Court recognised native title at Crescent Head. The decision will eventually bring about $1.2 million into the community known as the unofficial black capital of NSW.

"It is a moment of which our ancestors would have long hoped, whereby the whole Australian community through its courts has fully recognised the meaning of the land to the Aboriginal people," Ms Buck said outside.

". . . We have survived. We carry with us and shall not forget the determined refusal of our ancestors to deny who they were."

But the small parcel of land, measuring just 12.4ha, will never be occupied by the Dunghutti.

Indeed, the native title stood for just six hours yesterday, when the State Government moved to compulsorily acquire the native title rights.

Under the agreement, the Government will pay the Dunghutti $738,000 and a further $500,000 for a parcel of land which has yet to be subdivided.

Mr Shaw said the case illustrated the workability of native title and the Native Title Act.

Mr Bowell said the non-Aboriginal people of Kempsey supported the decision and saw it as part of the reconciliation process.

"It's certainly solved the problem for the people who bought land there," he said.

The significance of the presence of the May or was not lost on Ms Buck, who sat beside Mr Bowell in court.

"We are pleased to have their acknowledgment that they live in Dunghutti country," she said. "Times have indeed changed. Hearts and minds have changed. And so have non-Aboriginal people. We can all recognise that we all live in Dunghutti territory and Kempsey shire."

© News Limited 1997