A Place Called Home: The Gunggari Struggle for Land: a Native Title Case Study

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Cross Cultural Consultants Pty, Limited, Jan 25, 2016 - Law - 120 pages
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A Place Called Home chronicles the Gunggari's people struggle for recognition of their Native Title. Like many colonized people throughout the world the Gunggari who belong to the South West of Queensland in Australia have had extraordinary obstacles placed in their way to achieving Native Title. For Gunggari, like all other traditional owners in Australia, the journey was made doubly difficult because treaties were never signed between the colonisers and the people they dispossessed. Gunggari laboured from 1996 until today to establish their rights to the land before the Australian courts. Their quest was confounded by changes in the legal system as well as obstruction from Aboriginal groups who clearly abused their powers. Nevertheless, Gunggari stayed united and focused and through their spokesperson, Robert Munn, negotiated skillfully until in 2012 the Native Title Tribunal recognized their rights to the lower part of their country, Gungggari continue their struggle today and hope that the Native Title Tribunal will recognize their rights to the upper part of their country by the end of 2015. Many of the things in this book illustrate the level of cultural vitality and resilience which marked the people and their activities throughout the last 120 years since colonisation.

The Gungarri of South West (SW) Queensland, Australia, have lived in, and taken care of, the country reaching from the headwaters of the Maranoa River in the Chesterton Ranges to the junction of the Maranoa and the Balonne for centuries before Europeans began to occupy the country about the mid-1850s.

Despite dispossession, dislocations and disruption, the Gungarri survived over the past 170 years in terms of language, kinship and descent, bound together by history, common experiences and a rich oral history. They identify themselves as Gungarri, their knowledge of ritual and spiritual associations is strong and they continue to identify with the country, which has been handed down to them by their forbears. As a people, they have never surrendered their lands to the invaders and they have over the years followed a number of strategies to retain and regain possession of their lands when the opportunity arose.

This account of the Gungarri struggle for recognition and acknowledgement of their rights to their country, invites the reader to participate in their efforts by focusing on:

  • Gungarri traditions and beliefs, social organisations and lifestyle before colonisation
  • Gungarri resistance to colonisation, the imposition of non-Gungarri laws, land dispossession and dislocation
  • the ways in which the Gungarri have retained their connections with the land and their efforts to regain it, where possible, over the last two decades.

The information presented is based on existing literature dating back to the mid-1800s, as well as oral traditions collected over the past 45 years by means of interviews, focus groups and workshops.

It's not always an easy book to read because some of the stories are sad. People were removed from their country, they were excluded from Australian society, their children were taken from them. They were put in the lowest strata of society in the country town in which they lived. But it's also a hopeful book because it shows how both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in the end began to forge a united platform in terms of Gunggari native title rights to that region of South West Queensland.

"The land is everything. It's where we were born, it's where we hunt, it's our spirit, and where we belong. It comforts us and gives us hope for the future." Lynette Nixon, Gungarri woman, 2014.

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About the author (2016)

I was born in Lueneburg, north Germany. In 1958 I migrated to Australia with my parents and settled in Brisbane where my father managed a small apiary as a subsidiary of a large German import/export firm. I completed high school and then undergraduate and postgraduate studies in anthropology and sociology at the University of Queensland. In 1969 I began research focusing on value orientations among urban and rural Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in SE and SW Queensland. This research, supported by the then Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, first introduced me to Gunggari people, together with a number of other Aboriginal groups. I returned to the west and worked with the Mitchell Aboriginal community in 1974, carrying out research into Aboriginal people's adaptation to non-Aboriginal society - again supported by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. Although I left Queensland in 1977, to work in NSW, my contact with the Mitchell Aboriginal community, and the Gunggari people, has continued to this day. I have made many firm, lifelong friends in this as well as other Aboriginal communities in Queensland and New South Wales. These communities have supported my research into Aboriginal education, health and community development, made me welcome when I visited, and shared many family events and community plans. In 1977 I took up a lectureship at the then Armidale College of Advanced Education and my research and experiences served me well in designing educational programs for teachers to sensitise them to the needs of Aboriginal students. Of course the Armidale position provided the opportunity to continue my involvement with Gunggari as well as Aboriginal people in NE and NW NSW. We did some work on monitoring urban drift among western Aboriginal communities, as well as workshops to provide information and skills for teachers of Aboriginal children in Mitchell.These experiences helped me to develop a range of accredited tertiary programs for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal professionals such as the Graduate Diploma in Aboriginal Education, the Associate Diploma in Aboriginal Studies and the Masters in Aboriginal Studies. From 1989 my career took a different turn - I became Head of the Department of Aboriginal and Multicultural Studies and the College was amalgamated with the University of New England. From 1991- 1994, in partnership with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal colleagues, I developed an accredited distance education course and multi-media resource, Binang Goonj Bridging Cultures in Aboriginal Health. This became an elective option within associate, undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate curricula. After further restructuring of UNE in 1996, I became Head of the Centre for Research in Aboriginal and Multicultural Studies and later the Associate Dean (Research) in the then Faculty of Education Health and Professional Studies. During my time in Armidale, I formed strong ties with the local Aboriginal community and collaborated in training Aboriginal Addiction Workers. In partnership with the Pat Dixon Aboriginal Controlled Medical Service, I developed educational/research programs for staff working in social and emotional health. This was later to become the Associate Diploma in Indigenous Social and Emotional Well Being. Throughout this time I continued to carry out research with the Gunggari, and later the Kooma, primarily in order to collect data for their Native Title claims. However, much of this material was also incorporated into Aboriginal Studies curricula, cross-cultural education programs and texts such as Binang Goonj - Bridging Cultures in Aboriginal Health. I retired from the University of New England in January 2007.

I would like to pay my respects to my Elders past, present and future. I'm a proud Gunggari woman. I live in a small country town, Mitchell, on the banks of the great Maranoa River, in South West Queensland, Australia. I lost my mother when I was 7 and, supported by my father and older brothers, I was bought up, by many aunts in a very large Aboriginal community where everyone was related in some way. When I was young, we moved around a good deal and I never had a lot of education. By the time I was 14, I was sent out to work on the stations in the district. We didn't earn much but I felt very grown up earning my own money and coming back to the Mitchell Yumba at Christmas. I met and married my husband when I was only 16. My Elders were very concerned because I was so young, but more importantly because Norman was from another country and they didn't know his family. Still, every one was happy once they found out that Norman had the right totem for me, so they gave permission for us to marry. We settled on the Yumba and later moved into town. Norman worked on the stations and later the Shire Councils and I raised 7 children and many grandchildren over the past 50 years. At the moment I have 19 great grand children. I have always been involved in Aboriginal rights - which is inevitable if you are an Aboriginal woman in a very white dominated society. In the late 1970s I also became involved in Aboriginal politics by establishing the Mitchell Aboriginal Housing Company and, in the 1980s, became interested in researching my Aboriginal history. This encouraged me to enrol in the Associate Diploma in Aboriginal Studies at the Armidale CAE. I became involved in founding Nalingu, the local Aboriginal Cultural and Heritage Organisation and introducing the Gunggari Aboriginal Language Program at the local State School. I have taken part in a number of research projects, which have had practical outcomes for the Gunggari people, as well as Aboriginal communities throughout the SW Queensland region - for example, research to establish Community Controlled Health and Dental Services; surveys of sites likely to be impacted by the pipe line from Wallumbilla to Jackson Downs; oral histories to support the Gunggari Native Title Claim which were also used to develop a local Aboriginal Studies Program for which the Mitchell State School has won awards. Since 1991 I have been a member of the Binang Goonj Team, which for some 20 years, delivered cross-cultural education workshops throughout Australia and the text Binang Goonj - Bridging Cultures in Aboriginal Health. Nowadays I am retired, although I am on the Prescribed Body Corporate of the Gunggari Native Title Land Council, and I represent the Gunggari Nation on the Murray-Darling Commission - Northern Rivers and Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations. I still live in Mitchell, my hometown, which I will never leave. It is my home and is my every being; I belong there and will remain there after I have left this life.

I grew up in Merriwa, country NSW, until my mother moved the family to Sydney when I was 7 years old. So I became a city girl & attended school & university in Sydney. I completed qualifications at the University of New South Wales in one of the very first tertiary nursing education programs. After graduating in 1974 I did emergency relief nursing in Sydney metropolitan region & country New South Wales. In 1975 I travelled overseas and was fortunate to gain experience in paediatrics & child development in London before returning home to Australia in 1977. After experience in neonatal intensive care & paediatrics at Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney I took up the challenge of remote area nursing in Central Australia. I worked at Alice Springs Hospital & then did relief work in Aboriginal Settlements such as Papunya, Ti Tree, Warrabri (now Ali Curung), Haasts Bluff & Willowra. I was seconded to Elliott Community Health Centre in 1979. Here I developed with local Aboriginal Health Workers, Elders, parents & teaching staff, school-based community health education which informed the NT Pre-School and Primary School Core Curriculum. My experience in Central Australia motivated me to undertake the Graduate Diploma in Aboriginal Education at Armidale CAE. While visiting Armidale I was asked to help set up Dependency Resource Units in the region. I implemented in collaboration with a multidisciplinary team of professionals in nursing, medicine & education an 18 month Addiction Worker Training Program, the first of its kind in Australia. An initial 12 month training period was followed by 6 months advanced skill training which led to permanent staff employment. The project demonstrated the crucial role that qualified Aboriginal people can play in dealing with dependencies in their own communities as well as the larger community. In 1983 I gained a Kellog's Fellowship to do my Masters in Cross Cultural Nursing at the University of California, San Francisco. I conducted my field work on the mid north coast of NSW to evaluate the appropriateness of local health services for Aboriginal people. As part of my role as a lecturer at the Armidale College of Advanced Education in 1985 I visited remote villages in Papua New Guinea to explore & negotiate cross cultural nursing experience for Australian students. In 1986 I accepted a senior lectureship at the Macathur Institute Sydney. Here I was invited to facilitate practicums for Australian undergraduate nursing students in Central Java, Yogyakarta. In 1988 I gained a National Health & Medical Research Council Fellowship to undertake my PhD. I chose to evaluate the Queensland Aboriginal Health Program which had been in operation for some 20 years. In 1991 I suspended my studies to co-ordinate a working party to report to the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council on the roles & interrelationships between Aboriginal health workers, remote area nurses & doctors in remote Australia. I also helped establish the Binang Goonj team, which published Binang Goonj Bridging Cultures in Aboriginal Health and through our company Cross Cultural Consultants, conducted Binang Goonj workshops and facilitator training throughout Australia. I have worked in partnership with the Centre for Research in Aboriginal & Multicultural Studies on a range of national research projects including the development of the National Remote Area Nurse Competencies. I accepted in 2002 a Joint Senior Research Fellow appointment in Brisbane to support community child health nurses to plan, implement & evaluate evidence based practice. Since my retirement, I have been adapting the concepts & principles of Binang Goonj to help change the way we think, act & talk about prejudice & discrimination in our society. Independent publishing is an important goal - A Place Called Home - The Gunggari Struggle for Land: A Native Title Case Study represents our first attempt at self-publishing.

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