Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

20th Anniversary of the Nitmiluk National Park hand-back

Location: Nitmiluk National Park, Northern Territory

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I would like to acknowledge the Jawoyn people – the traditional owners of the land we are gathered on today and their elders past and present.

Twenty years ago, three thousand people gathered to witness a momentous event – the handing back of Nitmiluk National Park to its traditional owners – the Jawoyn people.

In 1989, Nitmiluk National Park was handed back to the traditional owners under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act following an historic agreement between the Jawoyn and the Northern Territory Government.

At the same time, in a historic agreement, a 99 year lease was signed between the Jawoyn Land Trust and the Northern Territory Conservation Land Corporation.

Today we applaud and celebrate the vision and courage of the Jawoyn leaders and people who never gave up and worked so hard to achieve their dream.

Their campaign led the way for the many who followed.

And, 20 years on, it continues to set the benchmark for the return of country to traditional owners.

The return of Nitmiluk to the Jawoyn was a defining moment.

It transformed long-entrenched views of land ownership, held by many non-Aboriginal Australians.

It was a transformation achieved through the great spirit of generosity shown by the Jawoyn people.

Their willingness, indeed their insistence, that everyone should have the chance to share their land, opened our eyes to the great and mutual benefit that can flow from Aboriginal land ownership.

It means Aboriginal people retain ownership of their land and have a continuing role in its management.

And it means their great pride in country and culture is shared with the thousands of people who travel here.

Since Nitmiluk was handed back, many of the men and women who fought so hard for their land in the name of their children and grandchildren are no longer here.

But their dream is.

The dream was and still is: Mam-gun Mungguy-wun lerr nyarrang Nitmiluk – Sharing our Country.

History, of course, tells us that the land claim polarised public opinion at the time.

And that Katherine was a town bitterly divided.

Against this background, there’s a story told by one of the land claim campaigners Chips Mackinolty that demonstrates the courage of the Jawoyn leaders.

Two days before the land was handed back, two Jawoyn leaders Mr Fordimail and Mr Lee fronted a meeting of 50 white businesspeople to speak about their hopes for the future of Aboriginal Territorians.

They were asking for an economic relationship based on equity and partnership.

But they were also seeking common ground:

As Mr Fordimail said: “All of us want just about the same things. We want our lives to be happy and prosperous, we want to leave something for our children and grandchildren. And we have to work together make sure our hopes and dreams come true.”

After this landmark business lunch, a local bank officer was heard to say: “I never thought I’d see something like today in my life time.”

I think if that bank officer was here today he would be in awe of what has been achieved.

Today Jawoyn enterprises are integral to the local business network.

The Jawoyn people have been steadfast in their commitment to care for and protect their land – with great benefits for their local community and the rest of the country.

Two decades ago they campaigned passionately to win back their land and they have shown the same dedication in running the park.

Today I want to acknowledge their contributions and speak their names because I believe it is so important that non-Aboriginal Australians know them and recognise the strength and passion of their leadership.

And so I acknowledge the great contributions of Mr Jatbula, Mr Baruwei, Mrs Winyjorrotj, Mrs Flora, Mr Brown, Mr Lee, Ms Mumbin and Mr Ah Kit.

The Jawoyn Association Aboriginal Corporation has also made a great contribution to building an independent future for local people.

Twenty years of exemplary governance was recognised recently by the Registrar of the Office of Indigenous Corporations when it was named as one of the leading Aboriginal corporations in the country.

The Corporation generates more the $1.5 million in income and holds over $3 million in assets.

It has built a strong and sustained economic base providing jobs, services and support throughout the Katherine region.

You only have to look at Nitmiluk Tours to see this.

This successful cultural-based tour company, wholly owned and operated by the Jawoyn people, offers visitors educational tours of the park – recounting its stories and history.

The Jawoyn people have also negotiated with mining companies to hire Indigenous workers and provide Indigenous scholarships.

This partnership means Aboriginal people get skills and experience in the mining industry.

And the mining industry learns from their unique knowledge of the land.

The Jawoyn people have shown all of us how a group of determined, motivated, passionate and hard-working people can succeed in shaping their future in 21st century Australia.

While retaining their commitment to keeping Jawoyn traditions vibrantly alive and relevant.

As a result the community has enjoyed much success.

Today we recognise and celebrate that success and thank you for your open-hearted welcome today.

We also say thank you to the inspirational Jawoyn people for your enduring generosity which has given many Australians – indeed many citizens of the world – an unforgettable insight into the strength of Jawoyn culture.

And the continuing and deep significance of Jawoyn country.