The Wangkamahdla People triumph in battle for recognition

In July, the Wangkamahdla People celebrated a milestone in their native title journey, gaining formal recognition as Native Title Holders over traditional country spanning more than 29,300 sq km on Queensland’s north-western border.

At a hearing of the Federal Court in Brisbane on Wednesday, 14 July 2021, the Honourable Justice Darryl Rangiah determined native title over Wangkamahdla country covering the Mulligan River region from the Toko Range in the north to its lower reaches in the north-eastern corner of the Munga-Thirri National Park.

With the determination, the Wangkamahdla People also gain exclusive native title over one-fifth of the Munga-Thirri’s 10,000 sq km expanse, giving the community rights to possess, occupy, use and enjoy the area to the exclusion of all others. This area of the Munga-Thirri National Park is home to a number of natural springs and burial sites of cultural significance to the Wangkamahdla People, and exclusive native title empowers the community to better protect those sites in future.

Though COVID-19 uncertainty restricted the Federal Court from hosting the consent determination hearing on Country, several members of the Applicant attended in-person and many watched from home via video conference, celebrating together with applause following the Court’s determination of native title.

Barrister and Wangkamahdla woman Avelina Tarrago, in a heartfelt address to the Court, said formal acknowledgement of native title solidifies identity as Wangkamahdla People in the wider Australian community.

“Despite 120 years of colonisation of our traditional lands, we still stand here, together, with the strength of our old people guiding us. Those Elders who have since passed on and those who continue to guide us.

We have always known who we are and where we are from. It is from birth, it is in our blood, it is in our spirit, and it is in the spirit of our ancestors.

Whilst we don’t need a court to confirm our identity as Wangkamadla people, legal recognition is important to solidifying that identity in wider society and has implications for our people to advance our self-determination.”

QSNTS Chief Executive Officer Kevin Smith applauded the outcome, calling it a testament to the Wangkamahdla People’s resilience as a community.

“Wangkamahdla Country spans the rugged beauty of the Simpson Desert and North-West Channel Country and has been the ancestral home of Wangkamahdla People since time immemorial,” Mr Smith said.

“It is Country that has shaped a People who are known for their tenacity, resilience and adaptability; attributes that have served them well in their struggle for legal recognition through the difficult native title process.

“The determination by the Federal Court gives Wangkamahdla People nothing they have not known in their collective hearts and minds for all time – that this is Wangkamahdla Country, always was and always will be!

“However, legal recognition strengthens Wangkamahdla People’s ability to protect Country for current and future generations as well as reframe and build constructive relationships with non-Indigenous Australia based on rights and mutual respect.

“Their Old People would be very proud of what the Wangkamahdla Claimants have achieved in a relatively short time – the claim itself only took five and half years, a comparatively short period as far as native title claims go.

“It is a testament to how a Mob can secure positive outcomes if they set a clear goal and work together to achieve it.”

Celebrations to commemorate the Wangkamahdla People’s native title determination will be held at a future date. QSNTS congratulates the Wangkamahdla People as Native Title Holders for their ancestral lands and waters.