Wangkamahdla People triumph in battle for recognition, win exclusive native title

(L to R: Graeme Finn, Shirley Finn, Christine Doyle, Isabel Tarrago, Mona Aplin, Avelina Tarrago, Nathan Mahoney)

14 July 2021

THE Wangkamahdla People will today embark on the next chapter of their native title journey after at last securing formal recognition as Native Title Holders over traditional country spanning more than 29,300 sq km on Queensland’s north-western border.

In the decision handed down today by the Honourable Justice Darryl Rangiah of the Federal Court of Australia, native title was determined over Wangkamahdla country spanning 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 today’s 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. Munga-Thirri National Park is renowned for its iconic red sand dunes that stretch up to 200km in length and 90m in height.

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.

Wangkamahdla woman Avelina Tarrago says recognition has been hard fought and won, bringing joy and relief to the Wangkamahdla People.

“Having native title over our traditional land is an important step to legal recognition that we are the right people for country,” Ms Tarrago says.

“This is something we have always known, but now the Courts have recognised that our connection to these lands has never been broken.

“It is really important for our old people who have been fighting for recognition for so long, and we are fortunate to be able to celebrate this with the Elders who are alive today.”

Queensland South Native Title Services Chief Executive Officer Kevin Smith says today’s outcome is 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 says.

“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.

“Today’s 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 will strengthen 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.”

QSNTS congratulates the Wangkamahdla People as Native Title Holders for their ancestral lands and waters.

Media contact: A fact sheet about the Wangkamahdla People is available for download below. For all media enquiries, please contact QSNTS Media Officer Jasmin Michiels via mobile 0409 139 664 or e-mail