OUT OF TIME: When the Wakka Wakka native title process started 30 year ago there 16 elders who were signatories. Today, Michael Bond is one of the three who are still alive.
OUT OF TIME: When the Wakka Wakka native title process started 30 year ago there 16 elders who were signatories. Today, Michael Bond is one of the three who are still alive. Michael Nolan

Edging close to a claim for Wakka Wakka land

AFTER nearly 30 years of waiting, the Wakka Wakka people are close to an agreement on their native title claim that stretches from Eidsvold and Ban Ban Springs in the north to Cherbourg in the south.

They are close to an agreement with the Gympie Regional Council, but the overall process is far from finished and the slow pace is causing concern among some of the group's elders.

On June 30 the claimants group will meet in Gayndah to approve new members.

This process must be done every time a claimant passes away and over the past three decades only four of the original members are alive.

Cherbourg elder Michael Bond is one of those survivors and he is concerned that with every new induction of claimants the process moves further from its original intent.

Chief among Mr Bond's concerns is the increasing focus on language, as opposed to country, as a way of determining who has a say in the claim.

This means folks from Eidsvold will have a say in how country is used around Ban Ban Springs or Cherboug people will have say in land use in the northern reaches of the Burnett River.

"They're not allowing us to have a proper input into what's happening in our area and that's wrong by blackfella standards,” Mr Bond said.

"(The claim process) has taken away the black man's lore and replaced it with white man's law.”

Before colonisation, the tribal rules dictated the visiting people had to get permission from a group of elders before they could cross into their land.

This division of tribal stewardship of country was important to elders 30 years ago but Mr Bond said younger generations are more focused on how they can make money from the native claim. Mr Bond said the conflict was on display when the Cherbourg Council built a new sewage treatment plant. The construction disturbed the ground so the claim group was called in to look for artefacts and heritage sites.

Mr Bond said it was not right that people from the north of the claim area had a say in the Cherbourg community's affairs.

"It's majority rules now, so we can't speak on behalf of our community,” he said.

This conflict is made worse by the limits placed on the South Queensland Native Title Service.

It was set up by the Federal Government to give legal help to groups seeking a claim but Mr Bond said it was not a neutral arbitrator for disagreements within the claim group.

"We can't get any independent legal advice and SQNTS is not allowing us to have a proper input into what's happening in our area.”

Each disagreement takes time and it's frustrating all parties.

"We could have got this done a long time ago,” Mr Bond said.

South Burnett


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