Gooreng Gooreng elder: Native title just the starting point

First published to Gladstone Observer on 28 November 2017.

WHEN Richard Johnson heard Justice John Dowsett hand down the Federal Court's native title decision yesterday, the Gooreng Gooreng elder thought of his father.

Hector Johnson fought for the rights of indigenous people across the region up until his death in the early 1990s.

Yesterday Richard was one of three Gooreng Gooreng applicants on the successful native title claim, an achievement he said would have made his father proud.

But he said his father might also have cautioned those celebrating that they were only "part-way there".

"He never ceded that someone else owned his country," Mr Johnson said.

"I grew up with a father who talked about it from morning till night, about how his land was stolen from him.

"He'd always talk in terms of 'my country', 'they haven't paid me for my country', 'I never signed my country over', so that's been with me since, and this is long before native title ever came along.

"Today, I think he would probably accept the decision with a little bit of trepidation."

Mr Johnson said he had seen how his father's activism had impacted upon his life and relationships, and resolved not to let it take over his own life to the same extent.

Instead, he planned to look to the future and build on the opportunities yesterday's native title recognition would afford his people.

"It's no good us getting over-excited about the decision today if we don't begin to measure our lives in terms of how we're going to benefit, and how our people are going to move to another higher level of interaction in this nation with the powers that be," Mr Johnson said.

"Whether it be in education, health, employment or housing... (the) decision will mean nothing if we don't start to involve ourselves more broadly in those issues which are pillars of our society.

"My aim is that I will share the joy of that decision, but at the end of the day I want to make sure that my grandchildren and their children take advantage of what has been derived out of native title negotiations."