AFTER decades of struggle the Warrgamay have won a landrights battle recognising their Native Title over a large part of Hinchinbrook Shire.
A Federal Court ruling has recognised the Aboriginal nation’s rights to more than 185,000 hectares of land, stretching from Lucinda on the coast, up to and along the Seaview Range and into Abergowrie.
Wallaman Falls and Broadwater National Park are part of Warrgamay land.
The Warrgamay never ceded sovereignty of their land in a treaty, but until now their connection to their country, which stretches back thousands of years, was not recognised in Australian law.
Speaking after the historic court ruling, performed online due to Covid, traditional owner Elaine Morganson said: ‘I had a cry for my father who fought a long battle to see Native Title for his beloved mother’s country.
‘I can now walk with pride on Warrgamay Country as this afternoon we were handed our Native Title determination.
‘It only took forever Dad. You fought the hard yard and tried everything to have this day.
‘But I know you and Granny Elsie were with us today.
‘Always was, always will be.’
The Abergowrie College teacher added that her late father Uncle Bill Morganson ‘went to the grave fighting for this’.
Army veteran Uncle Russell Butler set-up Warrgamay Fishing in 1990 and has been fighting for land rights ever since.
He said: ‘I never thought it would happen. It’s been a long time coming.
‘It’s a matter of them recognising us as the owners of the land.
‘Well, we don’t own the land. The land owns us.
‘We do it’s bidding. We have to look after it for the rest of our lives.
‘That is our job as Aboriginal people while we are here on earth.
‘But it’s really good that we’ve been recognised.’
Uncle Russell is an Aboriginal elder and community icon, who has advised government about how to conduct land burn-offs using traditional methods.
Warrgamay elder Charlie Morganson (76) added: ‘Australians will finally know that this is Warrgamay Country and who the people are: our names and that we belong to this country.
‘It means that the Elders that aren’t here now; that their hard work has paid off and we know that they are with us and that they would be very happy.
‘The future generations will know that our people fought for this recognition and they should be proud of it.’
Resources Minister Scott Stewart said: ‘This means the Warrgamay people can hunt, fish, gather, conduct ceremonies, teach and maintain places of importance on country.
‘As native title holders, the Warrgamay People have cared for this country for many generations and today’s decision recognises their long and enduring connection to country.
‘I congratulate the Warrgamay people, and everyone else involved, including the Cassowary Coast, Charters Towers, and Tablelands Regional Councils and Hinchinbrook Shire Council, for the spirit of co-operation required to achieve this outcome.’
‘The Palaszczuk Government continues to work with Indigenous Queenslanders to recognise their rights as traditional owners, with native title now recognised in nearly 30 per cent of our state.’
Australia is the only former British colony not to have a land treaty with its First Nations peoples.
English captain James Cook claimed Australia to be ‘terra nullius’, a Latin term meaning ‘land belonging to no-one’, in 1770.
He planted a British flag in the ground and claimed the country for the British Empire.
This was enough for Australia to be recognised as colonial territory under international law until Torres Strait Islander Koiki Mabo won a landmark High Court case in 1992, which ruled that his people had a system of landownership before the British arrived.
This led to Native Title claims being made from around the country, many of which are on-going.