Bar Barrum Native Title Consent Determination

June 10, 2016 at 5:00 PM

After a long, drawn out struggle over 15 years, the Bar Barrum People finally had four (4) of their native title claims determined on 10 June 2016 in Dimbulah.

At a hearing of the Federal Court on Bar Barrum Country, Reeves J made the determination that the Bar Barrum People hold native title over nearly 2000 square kilometres of land and waters on the Atherton Tableland in and around the Walsh River, and to the west of the Wild River. His Honour stated that by making the determination, the Court was merely recognising the traditional rights of the Bar Barrum People on their land that had existed since time immemorial and continues to exist today. 

His Honour recognised the length of time it had taken for the Bar Barrum People #2, #3, #4 and #6 claims to finally be determined. The claims, along with Bar Barrum People #5, were listed by the Court in December 2012 for a determination to be heard in September 2013. However, a group of respondent parties who collectively became known as the Walsh River Respondents raised issues of possible extinguishment in relation to areas covered by military orders in World War II. The issues were taken by the State to the High Court. 

Fortunately, not only for the Bar Barrum People, but for traditional owners all over Australia, the High Court eventually held, albeit by way of a split decision, that the making of military orders did not entirely extinguish native title. The result of this decision for the Bar Barrum People was that all of their claims were determined on 10 June 2016 without being reduced in size. 

The 10 June 2016 determinations were attended by approximately 100 Bar Barrum People on a sunny winter’s day at the Dimbulah Town Hall. The determinations not only give the Bar Barrum People recognition as traditional owners of their country, but it also gave them a chance to come together and share stories and reconnect with each other and their country. The Court’s willingness to hold determination hearings on Country made this possible.

Reeves J recognised the dedication of the Applicants, many of who had worked on the claims since they were made in 2001. His Honour also recognised Elders such as Tom Congoo, John Wason and Terri Anning, without whose evidence, a determination would not have been possible.  

Terri Anning whose Great Grandmother is Bar Barrum apical ancestor Rosie Congoo, emotionally summarised the importance of native title to her and her family in the following words: 

"What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. Most importantly, native title is about bringing our people back home, welcoming with open arms, restoring their connections, mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, this would lay our Elders at peace and rest."

While the determinations of native title do not hand land back as such, they do provide a recognition of traditional ownership and a legal recognition of certain traditional rights that the Bar Barrum People have in the determination areas. However, the Bar Barrum People now have exclusive native title rights recognised over approximately 400 individual parcels of land, which is the nearest thing to freehold title under the Native Title Act. 

After an even longer struggle with the Walsh River Respondents, the Federal Court finally determined, with the consent of all parties, the Bar Barrum People #5 claim in Brisbane on 5 December 2016.  

I would like to congratulate the Bar Barrum/Mbabaram People on their perseverance and patience throughout this long, arduous native title process. I recognise that many of the Elders involved with your claims in 2001 were unable to be present at the 2016 determinations and I wish to pay my respects to them. I would like to also recognise NQLC lawyers Mrs Karina Martinez (nee Healy) and our PLO Mr Martin Dore, who previously worked with the Bar Barrum People on these claims. I would also like to thank all of the NQLC staff that assisted in the claims process, particularly our Legal Secretaries Jacqui Fitzsimmons and Janelle Levers. 

The road ahead will be forged by the Prescribed Body Corporate, which is Mbabaram Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC and which manages the Bar Barrum People’s native title on behalf of all Bar Barrum People. Any Bar Barrum People who would like to become a member of the Corporation should contact Michael Congoo care of NQLC on 07 4042 7000 or freecall 1800 814 779, PO Box 679, Cairns North QLD 4870.


Author: Greg Bell, NQLC Deputy Principal Legal Officer