West Australian ministers have signed papers to transfer 320,000 hectares of boodja to Noongar traditional owners as part of a native title settlement the government has described as the most comprehensive in Australian history.
Noongar leaders and elders attended parliament house on Wednesday for a signing ceremony that represented the first of a series of Boodja (land) transfers of Crown land in WA’s south-west region to the traditional owners.
The settlement will see up to 300,000 hectares transferred as reserve or leasehold, and up to 20,000 hectares as freehold for ‘cultural or economic development purposes’ as determined by the traditional owners.
Minister for aboriginal affairs Stephen Dawson said that the Noongar people negotiated a range of measures in the Native Title settlement process to ensure their connection to the land.
“Noongar access to and ownership of land forms a cornerstone of the settlement and Noongar people’s ability to connect with their Boodja is of fundamental importance,” Dawson said.
“I look forward to partnering with the Noongar people to achieve sustainable social, economic and cultural outcomes, including the ability to develop, hold and access their Boodja as the traditional owners of the south-west.”
A government statement said that the Noongar Land Estate was created to facilitate the Native Title settlement and reflects the traditional owners’ ‘strong and continuing connection to their Boodja’. It is the first step to establish a ‘significant asset base’ to be developed in line with Noongar cultural, social and economic aspirations for generations to come’, the statement added.
Plans are currently underway to create six Noongar regional corporations that will represent the rights and interests of the traditional owners as partners in the ongoing transfer process of the land.
Tony Buti, minister for citizenship and multicultural interest, recognised the significance of the first papers being signed to commence the land transfer process.
“This day marks the beginning of a precedent-setting collaborative process to hand a significant amount of land back to the Noongar people,” Buti said.
“The direct management and development of this land in line with Noongar cultural, social and economic aspirations will benefit the community for generations to come.”
The settlement will also involve other significant commitments that will commence once the new Noongar regional corporations are operating, either later this year or in early 2022.