Rirratjingu Announce Court Appeal with War Cry from Indigenous Forum in Canada

Witiyana Marika is a Senior Rirratjingu Traditional Owner, and is currently presenting to thousands of Indigenous leaders at the World Indigenous Business Forum in Saskatoon, Canada.

His speech today is on the creation of land rights in Australia by the Rirratjingu clan leaders, and on the Federal Court loss yesterday.

While the Rirratjingu did not win, Justice Mansfield rejected submissions by the Northern Land Council that the case should be struck out in its entirety, and made two important findings:

  • He found the Rirratjingu had demonstrated an arguable case that the decision-making of the NLC was flawed in relation to the distribution of mining royalties on the Gove Peninsula.
  • He rejected the Northern Land Council's attempt to seek indemnity costs from the Rirratjingu and found that the continuation of the proceedings was in the interests of justice.

Witiyana and his brothers Bakamumu and Wanyubi have confirmed that they will appeal.

"We have been left a clear path to appeal this decision, and we will take that path,” said Chairman of the Rirratjingu Aboriginal Corporation, Bakamumu Marika. The Rirratjingu people will continue to fight, as our fathers did, for our land rights and for the land rights of all Aboriginal people. We will appeal this decision".

Wityana said this from Canada:

"I'm here in Canada as the representative chosen by my leader, the leader of the Rirratjingu people, Bakamumu Marika, and I'm here to talk about the land rights our fathers created and must be saved. My brothers and my family, we will fight with our leader Bakamumu Marika. We fight for our country. We will appeal this Court decision,” he said.

“Our law, and our land, and our people, and our song lines, and our language were created at Yallangbara, not in a computer by the Land Council in their office for lawyers. They will never change our land, or our boundaries or our ownership. They are trying to take our money and our equality and we will fight them.

"Who are they, the NLC? What claim do they have to Rirratjingu land? They didn't live here, we did. They don't speak for our country. They don't own our law, or our business, or our land, or our song lines, or our culture. The NLC has no anything. They won't push us around and laugh at us. We will fight them. We will appeal.

“This is no funny joke: this is land rights. We created land rights. The land rights are ours, not owned by bureaucrats in Darwin. We will fight and continue fighting for land rights for all Aboriginal people. Our children too will fight for land rights like us and our fathers.

“We have been polite to the NLC, the bureaucrats, the courts and everyone, and we asked for fairness, but there was none. Our fathers fought and created land rights and the Land Council. And we fight to get our rights back, and the next generation and their children will fight too, and then their children if they have to. We are warriors. The judge will understand us when he hears our case.”

Wanyubi Marika is the Vice-Chairman of the Rirratjingu Aboriginal Corporation, and commented on the way forward.

“We were expecting to lose the case, and we were therefore expecting to appeal. This is proceeding as expected, we will take this to a higher court.” he said.

Yesterday Justice Mansfield delivered orders in the Federal Court concerning the ongoing matter of Rirratjingu Aboriginal Corporation and Others v Northern Land Council and Others. 

It is a technical legal case, where Justice Mansfield decided that proposed amendments to proceedings shouldn't be allowed as they were already dealt with.

The outcome is that the Court determined that Land Councils – which are essentially Commonwealth bureaucracies – decide border and royalty disputes, with no possibility of appeal to a Court.

The dispute is linked to the Northern Land Council’s division of royalties from a bauxite mine on the Gove Peninsula in North East Arnhem Land, but the implications are far wider.

It means there is a two-tier system in Australia, where traditional owners do not have the same rights to their land as other Australians do to theirs.