At a special Court hearing convened at the Century mine site on Waanyi country, the Federal Court of Australia formally recognized the Waanyi people as native title holders for a huge part of their traditional territory.
The Waayni Native Title area is approximately 1.73 million hectares. It accounts for about one third of all land on which native title has now been determined in Queensland, and is the largest determination of native title in Queensland, stretching from the Northern Territory border in the west to beyond the small township of Gregory Downs in the east. It takes in Boodjamulla (formerly Lawn Hill) National Park (which includes the popular Lawn Hill Gorge and the World Heritage listed Riversleigh Fossil Mammal Site) as well as a number of large pastoral holdings and the Bidunggu Aboriginal Community on the Gregory River.
The rights and interests recognized include exclusive rights in relation to Bidunggu Aboriginal Community and non-exclusive rights to enter and conduct traditional activities (including hunting, fishing and gathering) in the remainder of the determination area.
The claim was filed in August 1999, and Dominic Beckett of Chalk & Fitzgerald worked on the claim from July 2001, with assistance provided by Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation.
Expert anthropological opinion was provided by Professor David Trigger (who has worked for decades with people of the Southern Gulf of Carpentaria region), assisted by Ms Pauline Fietz in the preparation of a comprehensive report in 2003.
The length of time taken to resolve this matter reflects not only the size of the claim and the range of parties involved, but also the legal, institutional and funding framework in which native title claims are dealt with and resolved. The resolution of this claim also required the negotiation of indigenous land use agreements with the State of Queensland and several pastoralists, and the separate hearing of some difficult factual issues over 2 weeks in 20091.
The determination represents both the end of a long legal campaign and the beginning of new day for Waanyi people, many of whom live in the community of Doomadgee.
Chalk & Fitzgerald is pleased with the result of the claim and wish Waanyi people all the very best into the future.
1. See Aplin & Ors on behalf of the Waanyi People v State of Queensland & Ors  FCA 625 (18 June 2010)