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Issue #1707      October 21, 2015

Property in hands of weetapoona

The Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC) has handed over the title to Murrayfield Station, to weetapoona Aboriginal Corporation at a ceremony last month on the 4,100 hectare property on Bruny Island, off the south-east coast of Tasmania.

Official handover ceremony on September 18.

Murrayfield was acquired by the ILC in 2001, and is one of 20 land grants the ILC will make in its 20th anniversary year. Three-quarters of the 251 properties it has acquired have now been granted to Indigenous groups, creating opportunities for an economic basis for future generations.

ILC chairperson Dawn Casey labelled Murrayfield a significant property in the Indigenous estate that represented exactly what the ILC was set up to do – to assist Indigenous people to acquire and manage land to achieve economic, environmental, social and cultural benefits.

“Perhaps uniquely, it combines a rich traditional presence, wonderful environmental values and a first-class commercial sheep enterprise, producing 40,000 kilograms of fine wool and 2,000 prime lambs a year,” she said.

“The ILC acquired Murrayfield Station for its great cultural significance. The purchase of Murrayfield and the decision to grant the land to weetapoona was a decision the ILC approached with careful consideration.”

In Tasmania, titles to most other areas purchased by the ILC and all land returned through legislation are held by a statutory body, the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania, in perpetuity for the Tasmanian Aboriginal community.

The title for Murrayfield contains caveats – should weetapoona no longer exist, the title would be returned to the ILC.

The ILC still owns the business, and has entered a 10-year lease agreement with the new owners. “Access to land on Bruny Island was denied to Aboriginal people and a major land acquisition like Murrayfield has allowed Tasmanian Aboriginal people a place to re-establish cultural traditions, hold social activities, and pursue economic opportunities,” Dr Casey said.

Since 2008, Murrayfield has provided access to hundreds of Aboriginal visitors to hold more than 100 cultural events, hosted training programs in agriculture and land management, with many Aboriginal people completing accredited training. The property caters to school and university groups, various interest and tourist groups – with 2,000 visitors each year.

Murrayfield now protects almost 300 Aboriginal heritage sites, is the site of George Augustus’ first Aboriginal mission, and is a crucial habitat for endangered species.

It is lauded as an example of profitable farming co-existing with heritage and environmental protection.

In conjunction with weetapoona, the ILC has managed Murrayfield for 14 years and developed a successful agricultural business.

Before the title handover ceremony, weetapoona signed a joint management agreement for National Parks on Bruny Island, some of which border Murrayfield, with Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service.

Weetapoona chairman Ben Sculthorpe hopes management will be stepped up for Aboriginal.

“Times are looking up,” said a visibly emotional Mr Sculthorpe.

“Today was one of the proudest moments that I’ve had as an Aboriginal person.

“It meant so much to so many people. The hours and hours of work that they have done to try and get to this stage has been remarkable.”

He said Murrayfield was a spiritually and culturally safe place to call home.

Founding weetapoona member Rodney Dillon said it was time for something like the ILC to be set up to buy resources back out of the ocean.

Another Aboriginal voice for Tasmanians

Chair of the recently-formed Tasmanian Regional Aboriginal Community Alliance (TRACA) Rodney Dillon is hopeful more Aboriginal voices will be heard in discussions about land handbacks and world heritage.

“Organisations were frustrated with government not talking to groups, so we joined to make one bigger group to work with,” he said.

“TRACA was born out of frustration – we talk about self-determination, but we don’t always practise what it means.”

At the first meeting of TRACA, many Aboriginal people said they felt their views were not being heard because governments only dealt with the Tasmanian Aboriginal Land Council and the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre.

“We don’t want to be seen as a threat to other groups – we’re not,” Mr Dillon said. “Whoever is advocating for land handbacks, well and good, let’s all have a fair go at it, let’s try to get land back in a lot of areas, not just a selective group.”

Mr Dillon said there were also concerns regarding state government consultation and process regarding the Tasmanian Wilderness and World Heritage Area.

The group is holding another meeting soon in Campbell Town, between Hobart and Launceston, where it will discuss negotiating a tri-partisan agreement with state politicians so that Aboriginal issues cannot be used as a political football.

TRACA includes representatives from the Flinders Island Aboriginal Association, South East Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation, weetapoona Aboriginal Corporation, Six Rivers Aboriginal Corporation and the Circular Head Aboriginal Corporation.

Koori Mail

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