Native title claimant Robert Smiler. Picture: Clare Rawlinson, ABC

After ten long years the Najig and Guyanggan Ngannawirdbird peoples have had their claim for native title rights over the small NT township of Mataranka recognised.

This is the address to the Court by the native title claimant’s legal representative, Ms. Tamara Cole of the Northern Land Council.

Your Honour has been provided with a minute of proposed orders and determination of native title by consent signed by the legal representatives of all nine parties to this proceeding together with a statement of agreed facts and joint submissions of the Applicant and the Northern Territory.

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By consent, your Honour, the parties seek the orders provided to the court to facilitate the recognition of the native title rights and interests held by the Najig and Guyanggan Nganawirdbird groups over the Town of Mataranka.

Today marks an historic junction in the relationship between the Northern Territory and the Najig and Guyanggan Nganawirdbird groups for three important reasons.

Firstly, it acknowledges the custodianship of the township and its rightful place in the Najig and Guyanggan Nganawirdbird estates.

Secondly, it recognises that those groups have always had, and still have, a special relationship with and rights in the land underlying the town.

And, thirdly, the determination heralds the still relatively new approach taken by the Northern Territory and supported by the Court, to the resolution of native title claims much more quickly than they have in the past.

native title claimant Marjorie Hall at Mataranka. Photo: Clare Rawlinson, ABC

The claim before the court today was commenced in 2002, some 10 years ago. I’m confident that in the minds of many of the claimants and members of the Mataranka community present today 10 years is a considerable period. However, as compared with claims in other areas of Australia this is a relatively short period.

The Northern Territory is to be commended for its facilitating and adopting a means by which it, on behalf of the Territory community, proceeds to a speedy resolution of native title claims. The resolution of claims provides immeasurable benefits to claimants and certainty to the future direction of Territory communities like Mataranka.

Above all your Honour, today belongs to the Najig and Guyanggan Nganawirdbird groups. For those groups, the orders the parties have asked the Court to make are not about rights and ownership, as we would understand those terms, it’s about spiritual affiliation and duty. The orders sought give expression to their connection to the country we’re on and their responsibility for it.

The Najig and Guyanggan Nganawirdbird groups are part of the Yangman language group and share a close relationship with their Mangarrayi neighbours. The immediate town area is of considerable religious and ceremonial significance to both groups as this area and the surrounding watercourses are dotted with sites of mythological and ceremonial importance.

Sites in the Najig estate including the sites Najig, the Mataranka Thermal Pool, and Gorran or Bitter Springs that are predominantly associated with the Jab ‘Whirlwind’ Dreaming which is part of the long track of this dreaming begins in the eastern Roper area, and enters the immediate Mataranka area from the Longreach system on WarlockPonds to the south. The final place the Whirlwind went was Bitter Springs but a few kilometres east of this court. At Bitter Spings the Whirlwind hit the ground there with a yamstick, as it had done elsewhere, and out gushed abundant water.

The principle totem of the Guyanggan Nganawirdbird group is the Garawi ‘Plains Kangaroo’ which came north from Warlock Ponds and out of the Roper River at the site Murlarag ‘Twelve Mile Yard’ to the east of the Mataranka homestead.

The dreaming travelled downstream a distance, passing through Murrwale onto Balmarrag where it was heard by the Wanggij, Child – another significant dreaming which crossed the claim area. The Plains Kangaroo then turned north to Nganawirdbird, the sickness dreaming on Cave Creek, and continued along Cave Creek through the nearby billabongs where it met Ngorlo-morro the ‘Nail-tailed wallaby’. Finally, it went east towards Hodgson Downs where a Goanna tried to offer him an ‘old wife’ rather than a ‘young woman’ so the Plains Kangaroo bailed up and continued hopping east and ended his journey on Maria Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Before and since European contact the Najig and Guyanggan Nganawirdbird groups have remained in Mataranka and surrounding communities on Elsey station, at Jilkminggan and throughout the Roper Valley. Their attachment to country through residence, spiritual life, ceremony, site protection and use of resources remains strong.

Processes of change are recognised but are not seen by them to contradict their view of the constancy of the totemic landscape and their connection to it.

The recognition of the members of the Najig and Guyanggan Ngannawirdbird groups as native title holders of Mataranka is a significant milestone in the long history of both groups. It is also significant for the children and grandchildren of the claimants present today who will carry this proud legacy into the future.

The claimants wish to express their gratitude to the efforts of the Northern Territory and other respondents which have led to our being here today.

In particular, I would like to mention Sonia Brownhill and Poppi Gatis on behalf of the Northern Territory, the legal representatives of the seven other respondents, the efforts of anthropologists Robert Graham, Nadia Ronay, Samantha Ebsworth and Francesca Merlan and Federal Court Registrar Patricia Christie. There are many others who have worked with them all to make today possible and we are grateful to them. The process towards today’s determination was in itself a complex logistical one.

The claimants extend their thanks to all those at the Northern Land Council, the Court, the Territory Manor and the Northern Territory who have worked together to facilitate today’s ceremony.

If your Honour pleases, those are my submissions.


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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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