A long and successful negotiation

WR6A2111The creation of the Worimi Conservation Lands (WCL) was the outcome of a long and successful negotiation by the Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC) and traditional Aboriginal owners with the NSW Government.

The Worimi LALC first made a number of land claims under the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1986 over Crown land at Stockton Bight in the 1990s. At that time the NSW Government also expressed its desire to add lands at Stockton Bight to the national park reserve system.

The Worimi LALC wrote to the NSW Minister for the Environment with a co-management proposal that would enable the land to be included in the national park reserve system, protect the broader community’s interests and provide for recognition of Worimi Country, land title and benefits to the local Aboriginal community.

In 2001 an agreement was reached between the NSW Government, the Worimi LALC and the Worimi Traditional Owners and Elders Group to resolve some of the land claims by creating a park that is Worimi-owned and leased back to the NSW Government to be jointly managed with the Worimi traditional owners.

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Gough and Margaret Whitlam joined the handover celebration

Throughout 2005 and 2006 Worimi LALC representatives and an Aboriginal negotiating panel of Worimi Traditional Owners negotiated the lease agreement for the WCL with the Minister for the Environment. Once the lease was agreed and entered into, the land was granted to the Worimi LALC under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, and gazetted in 2007 under the NPW Act as Worimi National Park, Worimi State Conservation Area and Worimi Regional Park.

The handover of the land was celebrated by the Worimi people and the community with a ‘Celebration on the Sands’ in February 2007.  Former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam was among the special guests who joined Worimi Traditional Owners in celebrating this remarkable achievement.

Significant contributions

The following excerpt from the preamble to the WCL lease agreement explains the long journey to handover and identifies the many people who contributed so much to this landmark negotiation:

“In an effort to secure these traditional lands for the Worimi people and for the entire community of the future, the Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council (the Land Council), headed by (the then CEO) Mr Len Anderson (Lennie), made many land claims in accordance with the NSW Aboriginal Lands Rights Act 1983 (the Land Rights Act). One particular group of land claims was placed on the Stockton Bight area in the late 1990’s. In 1995 the NSW Government expressed a desire to add the lands at Stockton to the national park reserve system. The Land Council wrote to the NSW Minister for the Environment with a co-management proposal that would enable the land to be included in the national park reserve system, protect the broader community’s interests and could provide for recognition, title and benefits to the local Aboriginal community.

In 2001 representatives of the NSW Government sat down with Lennie and Uncle Les Ridgeway (Chair of the Worimi Traditional Elders Group Inc.), to discuss the Stockton Bight land claims. In these discussions, Lennie and Uncle Les successfully negotiated a significant agreement with the NSW Government. The agreement is set out in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which was signed in 2001 by representatives of the (then) NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, the (then) Department of Land and Water Conservation, the Land Council and the Worimi Traditional Elders Group. A Copy of the MoU is attached as Schedule 1 to this Lease.

The MoU meant that the land claims have been settled in accordance with section 36A of the Land Rights Act and Part 4A of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (the Act). In summary, this has meant that before the grant of some of the lands to the Land Council, the Land Council has negotiated with an Aboriginal Negotiating Panel (ANP) and the NSW Minister for the Environment for a lease of the lands to the Minister for inclusion of the land in the national park reserve system of New South Wales.

The ANP was appointed in 2004 by the (then) NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Dr Andrew Refshauge. Members of this panel included the following Traditional Owners:

Aunty Gwen Russell (Deceased)

Uncle Les Ridgeway

Uncle John (Noel) Ridgeway

Aunty Val Merrick

Lennie Anderson

Anthony Anderson

Kelvin Dates

Dave Feeney

Warren Mayers

Steve Larkins

In order to ensure the panel members were informed on legislation, up to date with correspondence and meetings were organised thoroughly, the ANP employed Jackie Henderson as the Stockton Bight ANP Co-ordinator. The Stockton Bight ANP received legal advice from Barrister Adam McLean and accurate and timely minutes of all negotiation meetings were provided by Rebecca Francis. The meetings were capably and impartially facilitated by Michael Williams. Vital to negotiations was the valuation of the Stockton Bight lands. This report was prepared for the Stockton Bight ANP by Chris Torr.

The Land Council was a vital party to negotiations. Representing all the Land Council members in negotiations were Janice MacAskill from the community and Peter Hillig as the Administrator of the Land Council under 14 October 2006. After appointment as General Manager of the Land Council on 6th February 2006, Andrew Smith also joined negotiations.

On behalf of the NSW Government Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC), Regional Manager – Robert Quirk, Area Manager – Rob Gibbs and the Stockton Bight Co-management Co-ordinator Adam Faulkner became the third side to this negotiation triangle. Legal and policy consultation for the Government was given by Lenore Fraser and Melinda Murray.

During the process DEC also funded a number of projects. A Cultural Significance Report was prepared by Nicola Roche on behalf of ERM and a Scoping Study and Strategic Economic Development Plan Reports were prepared by Paul Case on behalf of MLCS.

All these people put in hours and days of work by attending meetings, reading documents, preparing reports and visiting another community to fully understand the depth of the negotiations in which they were participating. The ANP members gave their time voluntarily.

The completion of negotiations and the signing of this Lease have meant that these significant lands are protected for the entire community to continue to enjoy as part of the national park reserve system of New South Wales.

This Lease also secures a majority of Aboriginal Owners on the board of management, real training and employment opportunities for the local Aboriginal community and other benefits.

Worimi people remember the past and what happened to our ancestors on the missions and around the towns but we have learnt to work together for the future of our children and our Aboriginal community. We hope all who use the Worimi Conservation Lands remember those who came before, acknowledge the role of those who now govern and preserve the area for those who will come in the future.