Gkuthaarn and Kukatj people get full ownership thanks to freehold ownership

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Gkuthaarn and Kukatj people get full ownership thanks to freehold ownership

For nearly a decade, Gkuthaarn woman Leanne Edwards and her people fought for native title recognition over land in the Gulf of Carpentaria where their ancestors had lived for thousands of years.

In 2020, the native title was granted over 16,000 kilometres of land in Normanton.

But we couldn't build on that land, Ms Edwards said.

We couldn't use it for housing or the economic development of our people. That changed when the freehold title was granted over 155 hectares of the region.

We have a bit of the land. There's a lot of opportunity for our people to move back and own their own homes and start up businesses, according to Ms Edwards.

She said that the pathways to achieving freehold ownership should be the focus of the independence and economic development of Aboriginal communities.

Unlike native title, which legally recognises the rights and interests of Aboriginal peoples to the land, freehold title allows full ownership.

Before achieving a freehold title, the Gkuthaarn and Kukatj people struggled to participate in the region's housing market, Ms Edwards said.

The rights of pastoralists override the native title rights in the region.

A lot of our mob don't own their own homes, because they're living in government or rental housing, so a lot of them don't own their own homes, Ms Edwards said.

When they come up at auctions, Aboriginal people don't have that money because they're hard to come by or they're all owned by the council.

The Planning, Environment and Land Use Management partner at Cooper Grace Ward law firm, Leanne O'Neill, has practiced native title law for about 20 years.

She said the clash between pastoral rights and native title rights was common.

A native title holder wouldn't be able to use or live in improvements done by the pastoral lease holder, O'Neill said.

She said that the barrier was removed through freehold ownership, where the land could not be owned or sold outside the Aboriginal community.

Ms Edwards said it gave her hope for the progress and growth of her community as one of the people who had moved onto freehold-owned land.

She said that it's great because it means our people can actually start a business on some of the blocks - some of them are industrial blocks.

I'd like to see all indigenous people from Gkuthaarn and Kukatj have their own blocks of land that mean they actually own their home.

It took eight years for the Gkuthaarn and Kukatj people to gain native title before freehold ownership was achieved.

It's sad because we lost a lot of our elders along the way who started the process with us and passed away without knowing the outcome. She said the process of attaining recognition and ownership over parcels of land was ridiculous and Indigenous groups were unable to get access to the legal system.

She said that the laws around land tenure and native title are very complicated and time consuming, and navigating these laws for real world outcomes is costly and time consuming.

She said that it is an ongoing challenge to prevent parties from being deprived of their rights due to lack of resources or cost.

Ms Edwards hoped that the pathway to freehold ownership for Aboriginal people would simplify over time.

It's a good step in the right direction. The government's policies have changed over the years, which has made the native title process a lot better.