CEO of the Coffs Harbour Local Aboriginal Land Council, Nathan Brennan.
CEO of the Coffs Harbour Local Aboriginal Land Council, Nathan Brennan. Trevor Veale

Reclaiming land is key to reconciliation

The Aboriginal land claim process needs a shake up according to CEO of the Coffs Harbour Local Aboriginal Land Council, Nathan Brennan.

It moves at such a glacial pace and is holding back meaningful progress towards reconciliation, Mr Brennan says.

He has shared his insights during National Reconciliation Week.

It runs from May 27 to June 3 and the dates remain the same each year to mark two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey- the successful 1967 referendum, and the High Court Mabo decision respectively.

"We've got so many outstanding land claims waiting to be processed. Some have been outstanding from before I was born," Mr Brennan said.

"They remain tied up in administrative processes and it's not good enough that land is tied up for that long after a claim has been put on it."

Once a claim is resolved there are further delays with the transfer of legal title.

Under the legislation, legal title cannot pass until the land has been surveyed and the details recorded.

"At the moment there is a back log in surveying so even after a land claim is granted it would be five years before we can get a surveyor out to see it."

He says the Coffs Harbour Local Aboriginal Land Council has written to the New South Wales Minister for Water, Property and Housing (which covers Crown Land) Melinda Pavey to progress a number of key claims.

"She has agreed to focus on a few we really want to come back from an economic development point of view.

"More land needs to be given back to Aboriginal people in freehold title to use as they please - whether it's sold for economic development in reparation for dispossession or whatever they choose."

There is currently a claim over the historic Ferguson's Cottage at the Jetty and Mr Brennan is hoping this will be resolved in the next few months.

The modest cottage with stunning views is located just behind the old Coffs Harbour Deep Sea Fishing Club.
The modest cottage with stunning views is located just behind the old Coffs Harbour Deep Sea Fishing Club.

The ownership of the land and cottage has been in limbo for many years and Mr Brennan is looking forward to seeing it resolved and says there are a number of other parcels of Crown Land in the Jetty area which are eligible for claims under the Land Rights Act.

"We will do our due diligence to see if there are opportunities to claim those parcels of land and look at ways of deriving an economic benefit from that land, whether we retain it or develop it ourselves, or if we use it for tourism purposes or in other ways that fit in with the whole precinct."

In addition to the painstaking job of working through land claims, protection of cultural heritage is also high on the Land Council's agenda.

With so much urban expansion going on, particularly north of Coffs Harbour, this is an urgent priority for Mr Brennan.

"There's so much expansion going on at Moonee at the moment and the area is obviously really significant.

"It's one of the most culturally significant places on the coast with access to resources - both food resources and resources to make things like axes - and with access to freshwater close to the ocean."

Moonee Creek mouth. 13 MAY 2015 Photo Trevor Veale / Coffs Coast Advocate
Moonee Creek mouth. 13 MAY 2015 Photo Trevor Veale / Coffs Coast Advocate Trevor Veale

He says Coffs Harbour City Council has stringent regulations in place to protect cultural heritage but it's too easy for this to be overridden.

"You're always going to have urban expansion and we don't want to stop that.

"What I don't like about the system is that cultural heritage values are never enough - a Minister has overriding powers to bypass cultural heritage.

"A development can go through State planning procedures and that level of protection is bypassed and decisions end up being made by people in Sydney."

The theme for National Reconciliation Week is 'in this together'. 2020 marks the twentieth anniversary of the reconciliation walks of 2000, when people came together to walk on bridges and roads across the nation and show their support for a more reconciled Australia.



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