Native Title claim settled after 15 years

Members of the Bundjalung of Byron Bay Arakwal Corporation Board at Broken Head Caravan Park last Friday. Back row: Tina King, Theresa Nicholls, Yvonne Stewart. Front row: Sharon Roberts, Delta Kay, Mick Kay, Dulcie Nicholls, Annette Kelly.
Members of the Bundjalung of Byron Bay Arakwal Corporation Board at Broken Head Caravan Park last Friday. Back row: Tina King, Theresa Nicholls, Yvonne Stewart. Front row: Sharon Roberts, Delta Kay, Mick Kay, Dulcie Nicholls, Annette Kelly.
Arakwal Aboriginal sisters Lorna Kelly, Yvonne Graham, Linda Vidler and Dulcie Nicholls long dreamed of one day returning to live on the land at Byron Bay where they had lived as children.

Sadly, with the recent death of Linda Vidler, 70, Dulcie is now the only sister left to pursue the dream.

In practical terms, that dream began way back in late 1994 when three of the sisters – Lorna, Yvonne and Linda – lodged a Native Title claim over a wide area of coastal Crown land that stretched from Byron Bay to Broken Head. Dulcie joined the claim at a later stage.

With the wider community having little knowledge of what the claim entailed, there was a great deal of confusion, concern and fear-mongering about what it all meant and its possible impact on private property.

Now, almost 15 years down the track, the claim, apart from some legal nuts and bolts, has been finalised – and the world didn’t cave in.

Linda’s daughter, Yvonne Stewart, who is chairperson of both the Bundjalung of Byron Bay Arakwal Corporation and the Cape Byron Headland Trust and also the public face of the claim over the years, said she was ‘really glad’ the claim had been finalised.

Speaking to the Byron News before Linda’s death, Ms Stewart said it was ‘unfortunate’ the process had taken so long and that it had ‘taken in its toll on all of us’.

So what has come out of that claim started all those years ago and the focus of many mediation sessions involving the claimants, the National Native Title Tribunal, the State Government, Byron Council and other stakeholders?

In 2000, the State Government entered into an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) with the Arakwal which, after being signed in 2001, led to the establishment of the Arakwal National Park with Cape Byron at its core.

The first such agreement of its kind in Australia, it also provided for Crown land near Cosy Corner to be transferred to the Arakwal Corporation for a cultural centre and tourist facility and there were also employment and co-management opportunities created for the claimants. But most importantly for the Arakwal, it provided for Crown land in Ironbark Avenue near Byron Bay High School to be transferred to the Arakwal Corporation for housing.

The site is where the sisters lived as children in a semi-traditional lifestyle with their parents, Jimmy and Linda Kay.

At the time of lodging the claim in 1994, Lorna Kelly said the family had lived off the land and the ocean between Cape Byron and Seven Mile Beach. The sisters’ grandfather was a well-known Aborigine, Harry Bray, after whom Bray’s Hole at Broken Head was named.


In February 2007, a second ILUA agreement was confirmed which saw two blocks of Crown land at Wategos and the freehold of the Broken Head Caravan Park transferred to the corporation.

As was the case in the initial stages of the Native Title claim, there has been some fear-mongering over the future of the two blocks of Crown land at upmarket Wategos Beach.

Ms Stewart said the corporation had appointed property management advisors to look at the best possible uses for the blocks.

She said the corporation would be looking at the best possible outcome, but no decision had been made.

That will come down the track.

 The number one priority for the Arakwal still is to get four houses built at Ironbark Avenue. But there is a problem – no money to do it.

Income from the Broken Head Caravan Park, which was officially handed over to the Arakwal people by the State Government two weeks ago, is being streamed into urgent and much-needed improvements at the park and there is no government funding available for the housing.

“We need to find an income in some way,” said Ms Stewart. “We have earmarked four houses in memory of the sisters who initiated the claim.”

Ms Stewart said the Arakwal people were ‘really glad’ to see the claim come to a conclusion.

“We have worked our hardest to preserve our land,” she said. “We know our land will now be protected. We think we have protected Byron Bay quite well.”

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