People power: Native Title game-changer for coal

The Plains Clans of the Wonnaruah People have had a terrific outcome with the Native Title Tribunal the Wonnarua people as native title claimants over 10,000 square kilometres of the Hunter, as reported by the Newcastle Herald:Wonnarua Native Title

The tribunal accepted that applicants Scott Franks and Robert Lester, on behalf of the Wonnarua People, were direct descendants of two Aboriginal women born at Singleton and Broke in 1800 and 1840, and the women’s descendants had maintained direct and significant connections with the region since before white settlement to the present day.

The decision ‘‘fixed a wrong’’, said Mr Franks, who has spent more than a decade arguing that mine companies have ignored the Wonnaruas’ legitimate claims to speak for their country, and paid ‘‘blow-ins’’ to sign off on mine activities that had destroyed Aboriginal cultural heritage.

‘‘We’re in a position now to say to mines, we don’t support what you’re proposing because our heritage is not for sale,’’ Mr Franks said.

‘‘All these mining companies we’ve pleaded with for years about protecting the very small percentage of our heritage that’s left are going to have to rethink how they consider these issues. The Hunter Valley is not there just for industry to tear up and walk away from.’’

Mr Franks said the Wonnarua people were not against mining and the jobs it provided in the Hunter, but the decision returned power to a group that could trace its links in the region to a time before white people.

‘‘This battle for registration has always been about protecting the region. Now the mines have to approach us and try to negotiate a way forward,’’ he said.

NSW Greens heritage spokesman David Shoebridge said the decision was a ‘‘terrific outcome’’.

‘‘The Wonnarua people have a strong track record of speaking up to protect Aboriginal culture and heritage, and this gives them a sure legal footing to continue that work,’’ Mr Shoebridge said.

‘‘Too often Aboriginal heritage is simply priced and destroyed in the Hunter. With so much already having been lost, this can be the first step towards real protection for this priceless culture and history.

“The claim runs over much of the Hunter’s coal belt and I can only hope that future generations will see this as a turning point where thousands of years of historical connections are put ahead of a few decades of dirty coal profits.”

Aboriginal heritage is high on the agenda in 2015 with the Wonnaruah People are now demanding answers from the NSW government after nearly $300,000 of Aboriginal trust money was granted to a government department in December:

Mr Franks has sent a series of ‘‘please explain’’ emails and letters to government ministers, departments and agencies about significant failures to honour terms of the deed, including having Hunter Aboriginal representatives on an advisory committee, and regular reports on the fund.

NSW Greens heritage spokesman David Shoebridge has criticised the NSW Public Trustee’s oversight of the fund, and called for an urgent review of expenditure and ‘‘the appropriateness of $298,000 to the Registrar in light of the terms of the deed and the purposes of the trust’’.

Mr Shoebridge also sought a review of the ‘‘absence of consultation with Aboriginal people’’, and changes ‘‘to ensure that Aboriginal people, and not government departments, are the beneficiaries of the trust’s assets’’.

There was no need for a register of Aboriginal owners after the National Native Title Tribunal decision on Friday, he said.

 

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