Despite being awarded native title over one of the Northern Territory’s most controversial cattle stations, a newly recognised traditional owner says the determination will “do nothing substantial to help Indigenous people”.
The Federal Court sat in the dry Finke River on Henbury Station, 120 kilometres south of Alice Springs, on Wednesday morning to recognise native title rights over the property.
But traditional owner and former Country Liberal Party candidate for federal parliament Leo Abbott said the finding was little more than recognition for traditional owners.
“As for allowing us mob as traditional owner to play a part of the economy of the Northern Territory, it really doesn’t,” he said.
In 2011, the then-Gillard government gave private company R.M. Williams Agricultural Holdings $9 million to destock Henbury Station in an attempt to generate carbon credits to sell on the open market.
When that project failed a few years later, traditional owners tried to take the pastoral lease, which had already been mostly paid for by the taxpayer.
That would have given them the right to run cattle or tourism ventures on the property, but instead the station was sold to a prominent central Australian cattle family.
“That was the perfect opportunity for the traditional owners, us, to play a part in the pastoral industry and to play a part in the economics in the Northern Territory,” Mr Abbott said.
“Somebody else has got the title to it, we’ve only got native title. Native title doesn’t really offer us up much at all.”
‘Over the moon’
But other native title holders were happy to have the determination sorted, which allowed them access to the property for cultural and hunting purposes.
“Really, really good, we waited so long for that. Over the moon,” Christabel Swan said.
Although the two-year process was extremely quick by the laborious standards of native title decision, there were still many elders who were not at the Finke River for the ceremony.
“[I was] happy and I had tears coming out of me [but also] sad, because I miss my old people,” she said.
Another traditional owner said he hoped access to station would help solve some of the youth crime issues in Alice Springs.
“There is a lot of dramas with young kids and a lot of adults and traditional owners are trying to break that. Country and freedom to country is one of the best things we can have on offer for the kids,” Damien Kunoth said.
“If we can use the land to develop our culture again, I reckon that’d be a good thing for our people.”