Joombarn-buru Traditional Owners Acquire Native Title Rights over West Kimberley Country

Native Title Holder Ngumbarl-Jabirr Jabirr woman, Francesca Ishigushi nee Augustine shaking hands with Justice Neil McKerracher QC. Behind is the Native Title claimant group at the Federal Court in Perth. Courtesy of Kimberley Land Council Facebook, 2021.

After seven years of court hearings and negotiations with the State of Western Australia, the Federal Court has finally recognised the Joombarn-buru Native Title claimants as the Traditional Owners of the country between Broome and Derby shire boundaries in the West Kimberley. The recognition was delivered by Justice Neil McKerracher QC in a hearing in Perth on the 13th of October this year (Kimberley Land Council, 2021).

Instead of these Native Title rights being litigated through court trials, they were succeeded via a consent determination, which involved the Claimants and the State reaching an agreement under the Native Title Act. As a result, the Joombarn-buru Aboriginal Corporation will be the Prescribed Body Corporate that will work on managing and protecting these Native Title rights. The Claimants, the Native Title Holder group, were given exclusive and non-exclusive Native Title rights for an area that traditionally represents the meeting place of several language groups. These language groups include the Jabirr Jabirr–Ngumbarl, Nyikina, Nimanburr, Yawuru, Nyul Nyul and Warrwa Peoples, who all worked together on the Native Title claim (Kimberley Land Council, 2021).

“Working together as different language groups is the only way to move forward, our old people shared the land and they traded with each other in the Joombarn-Buru area, they had to live and cross over boundaries and trade,” Nyikina woman Rosita Shaw (2021) expressed about the ancestors of the claimants working together (Kimberley Land Council, 2021).

The 940 square kilometers of land that was claimed is called Joombarn-buru, which means ‘wetland.’ Additionally, the culturally significant site Mount Jowlaenga was claimed as part of the non-exclusive Native Title area. Below is the map of Joombarn-Buru, detailing the exclusive and non-exclusive Native Title land areas (National Native Title Tribunal, 2021).

Determination of Native Title Map for Joombarn-buru map, Prepared in the Western Australia District Registry, Federal Court of Australia. Courtesy of National Native Title Tribunal, 2021.

On this important day of recognition, Rosita Shaw (2021) expressed how proud the Native Title Holder group’s ancestors would be, and her excitement for the future:

“Our ancestors, they’d be very proud of us today, our Old People were always fighting for Native Title for a very long time.”

When we were young, the Old People used to tell us, ‘you’ve got to stand up strong for your Country, you look after Country, the Country will do the right thing by you’.”

It (the consent determination) gives us more to go back out on Country, take our children back on country and teach them about the lore and to keep your Country and culture strong.”

This historical handover has become part of the current ongoing success of land being returned back to its traditional owners across the nation. With handovers such as the Daintree Rainforest to the Kuku Yalanji people and the Kakadu Town Jabiru repatriated to the Mirarr Peoples, we hope that this history-making progress can continue to be made far into the future!