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Tuesday, 22 April 1980
Page: 1639

Senator CHANEY (Western AustraliaMinister for Aboriginal Affairs) - by leave- I present the report of the Aboriginal Land Commissioner on the land claim known as the Yingawunarri (Old Top Springs) Mudbura land claim. I seek leave to make a statement on the report.

Leave granted.

Senator CHANEY - This land claim was the fifth to be concluded by the Commissioner under the provisions of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. The Act provides, inter alia, that Aboriginals can make claims to unalienated Crown land in the Northern Territory on the basis of traditional ownership of that land. Claims must be heard by the Commissioner who then reports to me and to the Administrator of the Northern Territory. This claim was for an area of 2 1 7 square kilometres, being a travelling stock reserve lying wholly within the Montejinni pastoral lease. The Commissioner found that the whole of the area claimed is unalienated Crown land, that there are Aboriginals who are the traditional owners of that land, and he has recommended that the land claimed be granted to a Land Trust. In making his recommendation, the Land Commissioner is required by the Act to comment upon the number of Aboriginals who would be advantaged by the land grant, the nature and extent of that advantage, whether detriment might result to any person or community as a result of the grant, and the effect which the grant would have on existing or proposed patterns of land use.

The Commissioner found that about 200 Aboriginals would benefit from the granting of this land. There is a strong attachment by the Mudbura people to the claim area, which contains a number of important sites. Up to 50 claimants have indicated their desire to make a permanent home on this land. Other claimants and members of adjoining clans also see the area as a place to live during the wet season. It is the view of the Aboriginals that the return of this land to its traditional owners will enable tribal elders to exercise more influence on younger tribe members and would help preserve their culture, customs and ceremonies. By itself, the claim area is too small to be an economic proposition as a cattle station. The area is well watered however, and is good cattle country. It could carry enough cattle to provide meat for those living on the land and possibly some stock could be turned off each year at a profit. As to any detriment which might result from the claim being granted, the Commissioner found that some disadvantage is likely to result to the holder of the Montejinni pastoral lease, who would need to sink three new bores to replace the Government watering points he has been using on the claim area. The claimants have agreed to allow the owner a reasonable time in which to make other arrangements. It was suggested by Montejinni 's owner during the claim hearings that the north-eastern corner of Montejinni including the eastern area of the land claimed, should be ceded to the claimants, and that the western half of the claim should then become part of the Montejinni lease. That was not a matter upon which the Commissioner should comment, and he did no more than mention the fact in his report. It will be for the parties involved to discuss between them any such proposals for the use of land at Yingawunarri. Apart from this, the Commissioner found that there would be no detriment to the cattle industry or other Aboriginal groups from the granting of this claim.

In reaching my decision, I have carefully considered the views of the Northern Territory Government. The Northern Territory Government initially opposed the claim on the grounds that the loss of the reserve for travelling stock and the stock route would be contrary to the public interest. During the hearing evidence was given that a portion of land around a Government bore known as Pussycat Bore had a valuable role to play in disease eradication and control, because of holding yards and facilities including a cattle dip which exist there. The Commissioner commented that the evidence demonstrated a value in the retention of an area of one square mile or thereabouts around Pussycat Bore for these purposes. After carefully considering this matter and the views of the Northern Territory Government, I have decided to excise from the grant an area of 12.95 square kilometres- 5 square miles- around the bore. This will be in accordance with a request by the Northern Territory Government, which sought the additional area to allow for the possibility of a much larger number of cattle being quarantined for longer periods than would have been possible with the smaller excision.

As to the question of continued use of the two stock routes which pass through the land claimed, I do not intend to excise these from the claim. The Commissioner found that there has been little, if any, use of the stock routes in recent years and at the moment they serve no practical purpose. Indeed, evidence given during the land claim hearings indicated quite clearly that they are unlikely to ever be used again. I am conscious how.ever, that in view of the rising cost of fuel and the uncertainty as to supply, it is conceivable there may at some future time be a need to move cattle on foot over these routes. In the unlikely event that such a need arises, the Northern Land Council and the traditional owners of Yingawunrri would not have any reason to deny access to the Dry River and Murranji stock routes. With regard to roads across the land claimed, the Commissioner found that there are two roads over which the public has right of way. One, the Buchanan Highway, is in current use. The other, known as the Murranji Track, has not been used for many years and for practical purposes is no longer a road. The Northern Territory Government has formally agreed to close this track by gazettal and it will therefore not be excluded from the grant. The Buchanan Highway, however, remains a public road and will not form part of this grant.

Having regard to the Land Commissioner's recommendations and comments, and having given careful consideration to the needs of the Mudbura claimants as well as the interest of other groups, I have decided that the land claimed with the exceptions of the Buchanan Highway and a 12.95 square kilometre excision surrounding Pussycat Bore should be granted. I shall establish a Land Trust and will recommend to the Governor-General that a grant of an estate in fee simple of the land be made to the Trust.

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