TRACTS of outback Queensland land totalling 23,000 hectares have been formally recognised as belonging to its traditional custodians, following a successful native title claim first lodged eight years ago.

Federal Court of Australia judge Justice Sarah Derrington SC made the determination that the Kunja people were the native title owners for land along the Warrego River near Cunnamulla in the state’s south west.

Traditional owner Stephen Howarth (pictured) was among eight applicants representing the Kunja people in the claim. He said the determination would ensure his people’s culture and language continued to be passed down for generations.

“This native title determination is vitally important for our young people who need to connect to country because if they don’t our culture and our language will be lost,” Mr Howarth said.

“There are some First Nations languages and cultures that aren’t lost, they’re just asleep – and for us, this is an awakening.

“By recognising the Kunja People as the traditional custodians of the land, our language, identity and culture will be awoken in our young people.

“Our mob have been very resilient in this journey and sadly there are some who won’t physically be here to see this day. I hope they will be here in spirit.”

Cunnamulla means “large water hole” in the traditional language of the Kunja people.

It was named after a stretch of the river now named Warrego, according to State Library of Queensland materials, and the Cunnamulla name was also adopted for a large pastoral lease during European settlement.

Traditional owner Maureen McKellar said the determination was a significant step forward for the Kunja People.

“Recognition of native title gives our Kunja People the right to negotiate on our country – it is about working together with graziers and others, and to build up those relationships,” she said.

The full judgment can be read here.

Kunja traditional owners Maureen McKellar, Gertrude Darrigo, June Derrick, Rhyannon Meredith, Stephen Howarth, John Barker, Diane Edwards and Julie Fox with Federal Court judgeSarah Derrington SC

Resources Minister Scott Stewart congratulated the Kunja people on the their efforts to achieve the milestone.

“The Federal Court formally recognises the Kunja People’s ancient rights and their undeniable connection to Country,” Mr Stewart said.

“I congratulate the Kunja People on reaching this significant milestone which will help ensure their traditions and values are respected and preserved for future generations.”

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships Minister Craig Crawford said the Palaszczuk Government was committed to acknowledging First Nations peoples as the traditional owners of the land.

“This landmark decision is the latest highpoint for truth-telling and reconciliation in this state,” he said.

Native title is recognised over more than 535,000 square kilometres of land in Queensland, with almost 360,000 square kilometres currently subject to native title claims.

Minister Stewart said native title was vital to Queensland’s pathway towards reconciliation by preserving Indigenous culture, values, and traditions.

“Native title is now recognised in more than 30 per cent of our state – this demonstrates our government’s ongoing commitment to working alongside Indigenous Queenslanders to recognise their native title rights,” he said.

Kunja country on the Warrego River around Cunnamulla
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