THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

  • The National Native Title Tribunal (NNTT) handed down a decision on Friday to register the Wonnarua People as native title claimants over 10,000 square kilometres of the Hunter Valley region in New South Wales.

WHAT YOU NEED TO DO NEXT

  • When proposing to undertake an activity in the Hunter Valley region, you must consider whether the activity falls within the claimed area.  If the land on which the activity is proposed to be undertaken is covered by the registered native title claim, you must engage in negotiations and reach an agreement with the Wonnarua People prior to carrying out the proposed activity.

Background

On Friday, 16 January 2015, the NNTT registered the Wonnarua People as native title claimants over 10,000 square kilometres of the Hunter Valley region, stretching from Maitland in the east to west of Muswellbrook, and from South of Cessnock to the Barrington Tops and north of Scone.

This area covers a majority of the Hunter’s coal belt, and includes parts of the local government regions of Cessnock City Council, Dungog Shire Council, Hawkesbury City Council, Liverpool Plains Shire Council, Maitland City Council, Muswellbrook Shire Council, Singleton Shire Council and the Upper Hunter Shire Council.

The NNTT’s decision followed from an expensive and lengthy campaign initiated by the applicants, Mr Scott Franks and Mr Robert Lester, on behalf of the Plains Clans of the Wonnarua People on 19 August 2013 to establish their right in the land.  The applicants were required to satisfy a high threshold by demonstrating a continuous link with the land in question.  With proof of archaeology, diaries, historical records and documentation of family roots, the NNTT accepted that the applicants were direct descendants of two Aboriginal women born at Singleton and Broke in 1800 and 1840, and that the women’s descendants had maintained direct and significant connections with the region since before white settlement to the present day.

What does this mean for mining companies and other proponents?

Although a proud moment for the Wonnarua People, this success creates a further obstacle for coal mining companies as well as any other individuals, organisations and government proposing to undertake future acts within the claim area.

With the Wonnarua People’s native title claim registered over the land, proponents must now negotiate with the Wonnarua People over future projects and activities within the Hunter region.

Importantly, this will not only impact on mining activities, but also any activities (known as future acts) undertaken within the claimed area (excluding areas where native title has been extinguished).  This means that, in order for native title to be satisfied and hence approval for the future act obtained, the Wonnarua People must be notified about all proposals relating to applications over Crown land in the claimed area, and both the Wonnarua People and the proponent seeking to undertake the future act must partake in a negotiation process prior to reaching agreement.