Native Title Agreement – Justice Michael O'Bryan. Photo: Cody Fox
Native Title Agreement – Justice Michael O'Bryan. Photo: Cody Fox

Moving moments in makeshift court as native title marked

FAR from the sterile constraints of a courtroom, a Federal Court judge placed his hands on the land over which he had come to make a historic judgment.

In a makeshift courtroom at a popular children's playground in Urangan, affidavits and DNA evidence were swapped for talk of ancestral homes, cultural legends and creator beings.

As hundreds watched on at Dayman Park, Justice Michael O'Bryan made official what the Butchulla people had always known - that they were the traditional owners of the land we stand on.

All the formalities of a day in court took place, accompanied by the smell of burning eucalyptus and the sounds of singing and dancing.

 

Native Title Agreement – Senior Counsel for Native Title claim Tony McAvoy. Photo: Cody Fox
Native Title Agreement – Senior Counsel for Native Title claim Tony McAvoy. Photo: Cody Fox

The gathered crowds erupted in applause as Justice O'Bryan handed down his Native Title determination, formally recognising Butchulla ownership of about 100,000ha of the Fraser Coast mainland and waters.

Throughout much of the proceedings, Senior Counsel Tony McAvoy spoke on behalf of the Butchulla people.

Mr McAvoy told the court of the Butchulla community's historical presence in the region and the incorporation of the natural environment into their everyday lives.

"In 1829 the first British people came to these areas and in the years that followed the lands were filled with conflict," explained Mr McAvoy.

"Many Butchulla people were killed and many more were taken off their land and moved to reserves."

He said those taken to reserves were forbidden from speaking their own language or practising their culture.

Their children were also taken away from them.

 

Native Title Agreement – Butchulla Dancers. Photo: Cody Fox
Native Title Agreement – Butchulla Dancers. Photo: Cody Fox

Mr McAvoy said it had been more than a decade since the first application for Native Title determination was made.

"The great tragedy is that many of the people who started this process are not here today to see the determination," he said.

Mr McAvoy said those who witnessed the determination would continue the celebrations of 2014 when the Butchulla people were recognised as the custodians of K'gari, also known as Fraser Island.

His submission was supported by representatives for the state and Commonwealth.

 

Native Title Agreement – Solicitor for the Butchulla people Wati Qalotaki. Photo: Cody Fox
Native Title Agreement – Solicitor for the Butchulla people Wati Qalotaki. Photo: Cody Fox

Meanwhile, the solicitor who led the legal charge for the claim said the determination was about coming together.

"The Native Title Act is a piece of legislation that encourages parties to come together to find a way through, resolving your claims of Native Title through conciliation and reaching an agreement and having the kind of determination we just had," Wati Qalotaki said.

She said after the K'gari Native Title determination in 2014, the Land and Sea #2 claim felt like "unfinished business".

Ms Qalotaki gave an insight into the extensive evidence-gathering process involved in making such a claim.

"It takes a lot hard work and I acknowledge the hard work of the applicants and members of the claim group who volunteered their time to sit with us," she said.

"Some of the questions we asked them again and again, about their connections to country and coming together so we could present them to the other side and hopefully persuade them that this determination should be made."