Three Aboriginal Nations Sharing Country

Three Aboriginal nations have overcome many challenges to have their shared native title rights over an area in the mid north of South Australia recognised in a Federal Court hearing in the town of Orroroo.

The Federal Court decision about an overlap of three longstanding native title claims brings together the Ngadjuri, Wilyakali and Adnyamathanha peoples in a joint determination of their native title rights and interests.

The consent determination is the first for the Ngadjuri, who also have a larger claim before the courts for an area adjacent to the overlap area.

Betty Branson, Roslyn Weetra, Deanna Newchurch,
Rod Newchurch, Elizabeth Newchurch & Vincent Branson, Ngadjuri 

Vincent Branson & Quentin Agius, Ngadjuri with Justice White

The Chairperson of the Ngadjuri Nation Aboriginal Corporation, Quentin Agius spoke to Aboriginal Way following the determination and said that it was a very emotional day for himself and other Ngadjuri people.

“It’s been a long time coming. Like the court said, it being over fifteen years that we’ve all been trying to work towards this.It’s upsetting that the Elders that started all this process off weren’t here today. A lot of them have passed on, but we feel that their spirit is here with us today in this country, for this major milestone”

“Without that knowledge of country and the spirits of our old people with us, walking with us today, I don’t think we would have got and achieved what we have.

“My emotions got the best of me today by feeling them old people with me, and accepting the consent determination from the government” he said.

Quentin Agius & Roslyn Weetra with Ngadjuri children
Ngadjuri dancers

The journey to native title had been long and sometimes difficult said Mr Agius.

“All three groups, Ngadjuri Nations, Wilyakali, and Adnyamathanha, it’s been a hard slog for us.

“Sometimes you don’t see eye to eye, but as people and family we move forward, and the outcome of getting this determination is joyous for us Ngadjuri” he said.

There have been many twists and turns in the Ngaduri’s journey to native title recognition according to their legal representative and SANTS Principal Legal Officer Andrew Beckworth.

At the Federal Court hearing in the Orroroo Town Hall, he acknowledged those Ngadjuri Elders who have now passed who had been a “driving force in the early days of the native title claim”.

Graham Harbourd, Lawyer for the Adnyamathanha told the Court in Orroroo that the first Adnyamathanha native title claim claim was registered in 1994 and combined into the Adnyamathanha Claim #1.The claim had had determinations for several parts over the years, with this determination resolving the last remaining part and the last native title matter before the Courts for the Adnyamathanha.

 Mark McKenzie Snr & Beverley Patterson, Adnyamathanha
Mark McKenzie Snr receives Determination from Justice White

Original named applicants to the Adnyamathanha claim, Mark McKenzie Snr and Beverley Patterson were at the hearing to witness the conclusion of the long Adnyamathanha claim.

Adnyamathanha Traditional Land Owners Association (ATLA) CEO Vince Coulthard told Aboriginal Way that the day marked “the final leg of a large claim”, however the work on managing native title rights would continue.

“That’s dealing with third-party interest groups wanted to do things on country. That ranges from mining activities right through to government personnel, like putting up towers and putting in infrastructure like roads and so on.

“The work continues for us, but it’s a beginning for some, particularly for the Ngadjuri and Wilyakali people” Mr Coulthard said

Terrence Coulthard, Adnyamathanha
Vince Coulthard, Adnyamathanha


The day is a welcome recognition after a long fight, Wilyakali Elder and named applicant Maureen O’Donnell told Aboriginal Way before the hearing.

“It means so much to be recognised by the white man’s law, that it’s Wilyakali country. What we always knew was true, it’s been a long hard fight to get it, but we finally did” she said.

Mrs O’Donnell spoke of the challenges in pursuing a native title claim over many years.

“It brings to you again things that were taken away many years ago” she said.

“We had to go to a lot of meetings, a lot of travel even when people were not well. We had to bare our soul about our culture, things that were natural to us, but we had to speak about them and put them out there” she said.

“But now that this day has come, we thank the Courts, and also the Ngadjuri and Adnyamathanha people for working with us and listening to us” Mrs O’Donnell said.

Justice White and Elizabeth Hunter, Wilyakali 

Glen O’Donnell, Wilyakali receives determination from Justice White 

Lawyer Peter Tonkin for the state of South Australia told the hearing in Orroroo that the determination “shows what can be done if groups work together, and these groups have been working together for a long time”.

Represenatives from all three groups – Adnyamathanha, Wilyakali & Ngadjuri
with Lawyer Ewan Vickery, Justice White and a representative from Epic Energy 

In presenting his written reasons for granting the determination, Justice White for the Federal Court said that the “determination involves a recognition that there is one single society made up of three groups”.

“The determination will have the effect of recognising that Adnyamathanha, Wilyakali & Ngadjuri people inhabited this area prior to European settlement and have maintained this connection ever since” he told the crowd assembled in Orroroo.

He said that most determinations are made on the basis of one nation being recognised, a shared claim is relatively rare in native title history, there have only been six in the past. This shared outcome required considerable effort by the members of the three groups Justice White said.

“They have had to reconcile their differences and this resolution requires some compromise.Each group is to be commended” he said.

He said that the area being determined had an ancient history, the geological remnants of the ice age in the region had been documented by explorer Douglas Mawson around 1905.

This ancient physical history of the land is a fitting backdrop to ancient connection of the Adnyamathanha, Wilyakali and Ngaduri people he said.This is “a new beginning with a very long history” Justice White told the court hearing in Orroroo.

The Ngadjuri, Wilyakali and Adnyamathanha people have registered a new corporation to manage the native title overlapping area.

Pic top:  Ngadjuri native title holders with Justice White and their representative SANTS Principal Legal Officer Andrew Beckworth

By Lucy Kingston

SANTS acknowledges that the land on which our office is based is the traditional lands for the Kaurna people and we respect their spiritual and cultural relationship with their country.