The essence of Waanyi culture is the relationship with the land. The land is not just rocks and mountains, canyons and soil, trees and rivers – each element of the environment has its own story of creation and inter-connectedness. The land is sacred and our deep reverence for nature has enabled us to live in harmony with the land and its animals for generation. Today we number approximately 2000 people who live predominantly in and around the town of Doomadgee and its surrounding Country.
In 1999, the world’s biggest zinc mine commenced operation in the traditional country of our People. The opening of the Century Mine took place ten years to the day after the massive zinc ore body was discovered.
Native title negotiations surrounding the mine were long, bitter and acrimonious. The Native Title Act commenced operation in 1994, with the proposed Century Mine leases representing the first future act to be dealt with under the new Act’s arbitration provisions.
In October 1994, native title groups including representatives of the Waanyi people and other traditional owners from the region organised a 3 week sit in at Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park to demand the right of the Waanyi People to have more say in the management of the Park, and to protest against the unacceptable levels of possible environmental damage from the Mine.
Better environmental protection measures were sought and the native title claimants finally approved the Century Mine compensation package in 1997.
Mabo Day in June 1998 saw the Waanyi People win a further victory in their fight to protect their native title rights and interests. Led by the late Victor Jacob, the Waanyi People from the Bidunggu community were the registered native title claimants of the Gregory River native title claim and traditional owners of the area.
The proposed bridge construction work would have involved the felling of culturally significant trees and the destruction of white clay deposits used in ceremony.
The Bidunggu community sought the injunction on the grounds that Burke Shire Council had failed to consult with them about the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage. The application by the Waanyi People was successful and an injunction was granted, stopping work until the appropriate cultural clearances were undertaken and an alternative proposal agreed to. In granting the injunction, the Federal Court required the Burke Shire Council to undertake meaningful negotiations with the Waanyi People and CLCAC.
Queensland at this time was less than 2 weeks away from a State election. The then Premier, Mr Rob Borbidge, attacked the decision and CLCAC, saying: “I’m asking the people of Queensland to give me the numbers on the 13th (the day of the elections) so that projects like Century aren’t held up by people like Murrandoo Yanner,” he said. ”I’ve had a gutful of Mr Yanner, I’ve had a gutful of Mabo and Wik and the land-rights industry,” he added. On 13 June 1998, Borbidge’s government was voted out of office.
In November 2002, however, more than 200 traditional owners staged another sit in, this time at the mine site. They entered the mine site after a breakdown in negotiations with the new owners over a review of mine operations and poor employment opportunities for traditional owners.
In December 2010, the Federal Court made a determination recognising the native title rights and interests of the Waanyi Peoples. The determination covers 1,730,081 hectares and recognises exclusive possession over the Bidunggu Land Trust area and non-exclusive possession over a number of pastoral properties, reserves and Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park.
Collectively, these native title determinations represent the expression of a deliberate native title claim strategy initiated by the CLCAC in 1996. Together, they are a significant victory for the traditional owners of the Gulf and a testament to the strength and perseverance of these groups in fighting for the recognition of their native title rights.