The title deeds to more than 1000 square kilometres of land in the Upper Daly region, south of Pine Creek, were delivered to the Wagiman (No 2) Aboriginal Land Trust by Phillip Ruddock, the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, on behalf of the Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia. The land returned consists of four separate blocks left outstanding from the Upper Daly Land Claim, initially lodged under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cth) in 1979. Originally, there were three separate claims over the area, which were amalgamated in 1983. In 1990 the Aboriginal Land Commissioner recommended that some, but not all, of the land represented by the claim be granted to claimants; following this the Wagiman people lodged a repeat claim. This hand back follows years of extensive negotiations and meetings between the Northern Land Council and the Northern Territory Government over the claim. The land returned will be held on trust for the Wagiman people by the Wagiman (No 2) Aboriginal Land Trust.
As part of the settlement, the Wagiman withdrew their claim over a portion of land called Stray Creek Block and did not object to the Northern Territory Government compulsorily acquiring the Wagiman native title rights over Stray Creek Block and Douglas Station. In return, the Wagiman have secured Aboriginal freehold title over a large proportion of the claim area, including a portion of land known as Sawmill Block – not part of the original claim – an important site which contains a variety of significant locations including burial, birth, historical and dreaming sites. The claim area also includes the Umbrawarra Gorge Nature Park, which will be converted to NT Freehold Title and jointly managed by the Wagiman and the Northern Territory Government.
John Daly, Deputy Chairperson of the Northern Land Council, said the return of the lands marked a significant milestone in the Wagiman’s history. Of the area returned, he said: ‘There is a very important men’s site located on one portion of land and today’s hand back not only ensures the on-going protection of that site, but also allows for the continuation of traditional practices’ (Land Rights News). Chairman Galarrwuy Yunupingu said the result was positive and a good settlement, commenting that the government had adopted a ‘new attitude’ to negotiated settlements, which ‘avoids costs and delays and addresses the interests of all parties’ (NLC Media Release).|