Queensland Premier Campbell Newman.
QUEENSLAND: After a 38-year battle, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman has given Cape York traditional owners the land one of his predecessors would not let them buy.
In 1974, John Koowarta tried to buy the Archer River cattle station for the benefit of the Wik peoples, but was thwarted by then-premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen, who declared the area a national park.
Mr Koowarta was vindicated by the High Court in 1982, but it was not enough to overturn the original decision, and he died in 1991 without seeing the fruits of his labours.
Mr Newman travelled to Coen on Tuesday to hand over the 75,000-hectare parcel of land, fulfilling Anna Bligh’s 2010 promise to do so.
Mr Newman said Traditional Owners had been wronged.
“Thirty-five years ago a great injustice was done,” he said.
“Today we put that right. So again, my apologies to those who have suffered.”
Asked whether he was apologising specifically for the Bjelke-Petersen national park declaration, Mr Newman said he did not want to dwell on the past.
“I was apologising to the people here, the traditional land owners for what they’ve been through, and I’m not going to get into any more detail than that,” he told reporters.
Mr Koowarta’s widow, Martha Koowarta, attended the ceremony, walking proudly alongside her 16-year-old grandson, named John after his famous forebear.
Her relative Doug Arliss paid tribute to the late land rights campaigner’s struggle.
“He was somebody special to all of us,” Mr Arliss said.
“It took us so long for everyone to stand up and get what was right.
“We still stand up and we still fight.”
Cape York Land Council chairman Richie Ahmat said Tuesday was a “significant day” in Australia’s native title history.
“This is the unanimous struggle of all blackfellas on Cape York,” he said.
In addition to the Archer Bend handover, the state government created the 381,650 hectare Oyala Thumothang National Park, to be managed by the local Wik Mungkan, Southern Kaanju and Ayapathu people.
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