Native Title win for Mirarr

Friday November 9th was a powerful day in Jabiru as Mirarr were finally recognised as Native Title holders of the township in an historic on country hearing of the Federal Court.

Traditional Owners

Senior Traditional Owner Yvonne Margarula said the Mirarr are happy to see the long journey finally come to an end. “We are Mirarr, we bring the land back now, that was a long time we’ve been waiting,” she said.

Mirarr man Simon Mudjandi spoke about the future of Jabiru. “As Traditional Owners of this town and the surrounding areas Mirarr have lots of plans for the future of Jabiru, we are working with the NT and the Australian Government to make this plan become reality,” he said.

“Lots of people know about Kakadu, they know it is important World Heritage country, we Mirarr people want to show them how special this country is and to make Jabiru a great town for locals too. We want Jabiru to be a place to show people, we want people to come and learn about our country and culture, we look forward to welcoming people to the new town of Jabiru on beautiful Mirarr country.”

Mr Mudjandi said successful rehabilitation of the mine site is essential. “We want to see the mining company do a really good job of cleaning it up, they need to make it good enough to be part of the World Heritage National Park,” he said.

This is a big job and the government needs to make sure the mining company does it properly.”

Justice Griffith

Justice John Griffith noted that
“Mirarr country contains Australia’s oldest documented site of human presence and occupation, a staggering 65,000 years. A moment’s reflection to compare those 65,000 years of occupation with the 2000 years we use on the calendar and to appreciate that’s about 30 times more since the birth of Christ puts into a quite poignant perspective the significance of today’s event.”

Justice Griffiths referred to the impending closure of the Ranger uranium mine and the anticipated impacts on the local community:
"It is hoped that among all this uncertainty, the recognition today of native title rights and interests brings a little joy to those who benefit from it and rewards the hard work, determination and patience of all who have been involved in its successful prosecution. I acknowledge the perseverance and determination shown by Ms Margarula in bringing this application on behalf of her People and everyone else who has been involved in it.  I particularly thank those Mirarr People and anthropologists who gave evidence to the 1977 Fox Inquiry. " 

Download full text of Justice John Griffiths extra-judicial remarks

Senator Patrick Dodson

Senator for Western Australia Patrick Dodson welcomed the granting of native title rights and the return of Jabiru to its rightful owners. 
“For 20 years, the Mirrar people have been fighting to protect their land. I pay my respects to those who have been fighting for so long for the right to be recognised as owners of their own land. The decision by Justice John Griffiths in a special, on country hearing to recognise the native title rights of the Mirarr people is long-awaited, and well deserved.

Senator Dodson continued "20 years ago the Mirarr people first submitted their native title claim and began a historic blockade of the Jabiluka uranium site. 
Since then, Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation has fought long and hard for recognition, and to ensure Jabiru is returned to its rightful owners. 

The last 38 years of operation of the Ranger Uranium mine, cannot compare to the 65,000 years Mirarr people have been caring for their country. 
The legacy and impacts of the uranium mine should not be seen as the ongoing responsibility of the traditional owners.
It is the responsibility of the Northern Territory and Federal Governments to acknowledge the issues that the rightful owners now face, and work in partnership to restore the health and environment of Jabiru and its surrounds."

Northern Land Council

Northern Land Council lawyer Daniel Wells presented the applicants submission and noted that "The proposed determination brings to a conclusion a native title claim that was first lodged with the National Native Title Tribunal in 1997 and filed with this Court in 1998. The origins of this claim are closely bound up in the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry, which commenced in 1975. 

The Second Report of the Ranger Inquiry, published in 1977, recommended that the area of what is now known as Kakadu be granted as Aboriginal land under the newly-enacted Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976(Cth) – to be leased back to the Director of National Parks and managed in consultation with traditional Aboriginal owners.

However, it was also recommended that the area of the Jabiru Township be excluded from the grant of Aboriginal land. So began the Mirarr People’s quest to have this part of their Country back."

Download full text of Applicants Submissions made on behalf of the Mirarr by NLC lawyer Daniel Wells

One aspect of that quest concluded with this recognition.
The work to realise the Mirarr vision of Jabiru as a vibrant post-mining tourism centre and regional service hub continues.