Aboriginal land handed back after 20 years

By AAP with AG Staff 17 March 2011
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After 20 years, Aboriginal land in Cape York peninsular has been handed back to its traditional owners.

AFTER 20 YEARS, THE Munburra Aboriginal people have been handed back tradition land that was once part of the 250,000-hectare Starke Station on Cape York peninsula. 

The huge former property in northern Queensland has been divided between traditional owners and part of it has become a national park.

Munburra traditional owner Paul Wallace says he’s relieved his people finally have now ownership of the land, although it took too long to get there. 

“It’s about time that it’s happened. It’s really good that it’s happened but we’re very sad that many of our members have passed away and aren’t here to enjoy this occasion with us,” he says. “We’d like to see the process improved for other Aboriginal people in Queensland so they don’t have to wait as long as we’ve had to.”

Paul says the legal recognition of ownership would allow traditional owners to care for their country and, hopefully, establish enterprises.

Long fight

Almost two decades ago, Frankie Deemal saw a property on his traditional homelands up for sale in a newspaper. He decided to take action. The Guugu Yimithirr man and fellow traditional owners launched a nationwide campaign for the return of Starcke Station, in eastern Cape York.

The three-year campaign drew national attention and resulted in an agreement with the Queensland Government to begin dividing the 250,000 ha property between national park and Aboriginal lands.

Three groups of traditional owners, including Frankie’ people, have gradually had their land handed back to them. The final piece, a 7000 ha chunk of the land, was given to the Munburra people in a formal ceremony in Cooktown on Wednesday morning.

Frankie says few of the original participants of the Starcke campaign were left to see the final handover.

“There is this classic picture of us all from the front page of the Cairns Post and sadly only me, my cousin and my uncle are still alive,” he says. “I think that is the sad aspect, that many of them didn’t live to see these handovers.”

However, he says, his old comrades would be happy to know that future generations would reap benefits from their hard work. 

VIDEO: Frankie Deemal talks about saying sorry and the stolen generation