Quandamooka land claim frustrated by 16 years of unlawful sand mining

Earlier this year 2010 mineral sand mining firm, UNIMIN, was charged by Qld Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) for selling building sand from the silica sand mining process on North Stradbroke Island off Brisbane. The sand was unlawfully extracted from this site near Cooroompah creek on the island (See map).

Unlawful Unimin sandmine on N Stradbroke Island

I understand that the offences Unimin is currently charged with are:

a) Contravention of the Environmental Protection Act 1994;

b) Contravention of the Forestry Act 1959

c) Contravention of the Integrated Planning Act 1997.

Under the Mineral Resources Act, the government has the power to cancel a lease for breaches of lease conditions. Will DERM recommend to government the cancellation of any mining leases on Nth Stradbroke Island?

Interview with a representative of the indigenous community on Stradbroke Island, Mr. Dale Ruska 20 July 2010

On Sunday, June 20, 2010 the Premier and Minister for the Arts, Anna Bligh, made a statement titled Mining ends on North Stradbroke Island.

Two important issues of fact arise out of the Premiers statement. They are:

1. Native Title
In her media statement the Premier states that ‘the Quandamooka People have a connection with North Stradbroke Island and they also hold native title rights’ yet after the longest outstanding native title claim no such rights have been granted?

2. Indigenous Land Use Agreement.
The premier further states ‘We have agreed in principle with the Quandamooka People to negotiate an Indigenous Land Use Agreement’.

Yet the indigenous representative, Mr. Dale Ruska in the recorded interview with me yesterday (20 July 2010) said that the ‘the original claimant group (on Stradbroke Island) has not had any informed discussion and has not given any informed consent regarding the Premier’s announcement and decision about National Parks’.

Mr. Ruska went on to say that ‘again it is similar the 1990s ILUA proposal where, if we do not accept what the state is offering through their negotiations proposals such as the national parks proposal the state is not willing to agree to a consent determination of native title.’


Having heard of the way in which the native title claim had been frustrated over the past 16 years I wrote the following letter to Mr. Graeme Neate, the President of the National Native Title Tribunal.

Dear sir,

In the course of an interview yesterday with a representative of the indigenous community on Stradbroke Island, Mr. Dale Ruska, I became aware that the Quandamooka people were the third community in Australia to lodge a claim for native title under legislation introduced by the then Keating federal government.

I understand that native title claim was lodged by them in 1994. The Quandamooka people have claimed unbroken ties to the land long before and during British colonisation right up to the present day.

During the intervening period much of the land belonging to Nuigi, Nunuccal and Goenpul people of Moreton Bay (Quandamooka) has been despoiled by unlawful sand mining, four wheel driving and real estate development.

Given that their native title claim is now in the Federal Court and a deadline has been set, could you please explain:

1) the stalling of native title claim to deny the land rights of the original first nation people;

2) what efforts you will make to ensure that their claim will be treated fairly and in a timely manner;

3) what efforts you will make to ensure that the first owners land will not be handed back to them destroyed by ongoing unlawful sand mining and development?

I remember Oodgeroo Nunuccal telling a small group of students at Moongalba around 1972 about the importance of caring for and showing respect for the land, the plants and the creatures on it.

4) How can such a delay by the Native Title Tribunal in processing their just claim not be seen as an attempt to protect unlawful mining interests;

Given the Qld State Premier’s recent declaration that much of Stradbroke will become a national park (without having any informed consultation with the Quandamooka people and withholding the environmental levy monies), the recent doubling of sales value of rutile minerals like zircon on world markets, and the continued collection by federal government of mining royalties:

5) what do you say to the charge that you are co-operating with state government attempts to ignore native title and to protect the state’s own plans for the economic development of the island?

If you wish to claim that it is a matter for the courts or desire to pass me on to some other government agency,

6) could you please explain why the Native Title Tribunal does not take some responsibility for the injustice to the Quandamooka people of the past 16 years since it received their native title claim?

Given the cost of ongoing delays, could you please give these questions your urgent attention.


Ian Curr
07 3398 5215
21 July 2010

See also:
Urgent community notice: Stop Unimin from destroying Stradbroke Island

Dale Ruska addresses rally at Magistrates Court
Mining ends on North Stradbroke Island
statement by Premier and Minister for the Arts, Anna Bligh, Sunday, June 20, 2010

8 thoughts on “Quandamooka land claim frustrated by 16 years of unlawful sand mining

  1. In the interests of conservation (and real estate developments), the state will impose a national park that conforms to the letter of the law regarding native title – which means the right to hunt, fish, camp and pass through the national park.

    So in terms of native title on Minjerribah, the best that can be expected is the right to do what all the tourists do anyway.

  2. Where have all the flowers gone? says:

    Where have all the flowers gone?

    Flowers on the Beehive walk on Straddie
    Beehive walk Straddie

    Where have all the flowers gone?


    Long time passing
    Where have all the flowers gone?

    Long time ago
    Where have all the flowers gone?

    When will we ever learn?
    When will we ever learn?
    — words by Pete Seeger

  3. Where have all the flowers gone, the curious sadly cry

    We are here before your nose, is the flowers defiant reply

    Though true our tribe depleted, and our territory recedes

    Each season as the season demands our remnant still blooms and seeds

    And in times of rest our seed, the remnant of the last generation

    disappears into the earth , to become a new creation

    Mourn not for those from where we came, whose scent you did not know,

    for we are the tradition of the original seed as we seed and bloom and grow.

    The sad cries of the curious paused to smell the flowers’ sovereign scent

    And sadness turned to discomfort as they pondered what it meant

    For if all the flowers were not really gone, and still continue to seed

    Then what can the curious think of themselves, except as invasive weeds?

    So the weeds colluded amongst themselves high up in their concrete towers

    and apologized for being weeds and built a memorial to flowers


  4. Straddie Dreaming: where have all the flowers gone? says:


  5. Graeme Neate, President of Native Title Tribunal says:

    Dear Mr Curr,

    Re: Quandamooka native title claim on Minjerribah (Nth Stradbroke Island)

    I am writing in response to your correspondence dated 21 July 2010. It might assist if I first provide some general information about how native title claims are dealt with under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cwlth) and the role of the National Native Title Tribunal (NNTI).

    In summary, applications for determination of native title are lodged in the Federal Court. Since 1998, the Federal Court has managed native title applications, and refers them (in most cases) to the NNTT for mediation. The NNTT Member then attempts to mediate agreement between the applicants and all the respondent parties, including the State. These are often complex matters with a range of issues to be resolved between numerous parties. Negotiations are conducted in private, on a ‘without prejudice’ basis.

    If parties reach agreement on all relevant issues, they ask the Court to make a consent determination of native title. If they do not agree, the Court may hear and determine the application.

    In the case of the Quandamooka People’s claims, one application was lodged in 1995, and one in 1999. The applicants provided evidence in support of their claim to the State of Queensland in 1998. Substantive mediation commenced following the provision of this evidence.

    After some intensive mediation which almost brought the matter to conclusion in 2001, certain circumstances delayed the resolution of the matter.

    For example, as a result of the judgment of the High Court in the Yorta Yorta matter, the applicants had to provide more evidence of their traditional connection to the claimed area. Other factors included actions in the Federal Court brought by the applicants on the matter. The issues were ordered into a Federal Court case management conference. Attempts to resolve this matter included the commissioning of anthropological research into the group’s traditional decision-making processes, under the auspices of the Federal Court.

    In 2003, the Federal Court ceased mediation with the NNTT following a recommendation from the NNTT that further mediation could not occur until the further evidence of connection had been provided. The applications were not in NNTT mediation between 2003 and 2009.

    On 20 February 2009, the Federal Court referred the matters back to the NNTT. The NNTT is currently mediating between parties who are adhering to the Federal Court’s tight timetable to progress the matters towards resolution.

    Substantial progress has been made towards a consent determination that native title exists and associated Indigenous land use agreements. The Queensland Government, the first respondent to the matters, has stated publicly that it and other respondents aim to reach a consent determination in 2011.

    If you have any further queries, please contact the Tribunal’s Case Manager for this matter, Ms Ann Stokes, on (07) 3226 8205.

    Yours sincerely
    Graeme Neate President
    Tel: (07) 3226 8223 Fax: (07) 3226 8218 Email:

    PDF Version of the letter above @ http://bushtelegraph.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/native-title-tribunal-reply-to-letter-about-quandamooka-land-claim.pdf

  6. Hello Ian,

    Your criticism of the native title process and Graeme Neate’ defence of it both miss the point a bit. Both assume a native title determiation by the Federal court to be a good thing. But it aint necessarily so.

    One of the obstacles to the Quandamooka claim that Graeme politely skirts around is that the long running mediation has not between traditional owners and government/business but between different families amongst the traditional owners, some of whom are not claimants in the current negotiations. (note graeme’s comment “The NNTT is currently mediating between parties who are adhering to the Federal Court’s tight timetable”)

    Because of the peculiarities of Stradbroke’s history it was considered to be the strongest native title case in Qld when the Native title laws first came in and many predicted it would be the first successful determination in Qld.

    Before Keating’s native title laws came in, Denis Walker – Bejam, Son of Oodgeroo of the tribe Noonuccal, custodian of the land Minjerribah – had a number of court actions, some of which made it to the high court, based on Aboriginal sovereignty, in particular the legal argument of “no jurisdiction” in relation to the Queen’s law’s authority over Aboriginal people and place.

    A lot of the anthropological work for the present Native title claim was originally done for Walker’s claims.

    At the same time as Walker’s cases, Koiki Mabo was fighting his case based on the same principle as Walker, that is customary law was real and pre-existed Captain Cook and continues today. The two men spent a lot of time together strategising and sharing perspectives. At Walker’s invitation, Mabo lectured in the Cultural Heritage Education program that Walker was coordinationg in Boggo Rd.

    Mabo’s case and Walker’s cases were both based on Aboriginal sovereignty, on the provable existence of a sovereign law and government.

    Native title legislation is based on the Sovereignty of the Queen, which extinguishes any claim to sovereignty if traditional owners sign up to it. The native title process involves ignorant white judges making decisions about the deepest levels of customary law and spirituality, on behalf of their Queen. These ignorant white judges determine fact and truth in disputes between traditional owners.

    Walker’s last excursion to the High Court was dismissed because the High Court is established by the authority of the Queen and has no jurisdiction above and beyond the Queen therefore it can only rule within the unquestioning assumption of the sovereignty of the Queen.

    Walker and many others, including Les Malezer, have been trying to find ways of bringing ABoriginal claims to an international law court. At this stage there appears no option as you have to have been a member of the United Nations at the beginning of it to have access international courts.

    Interestingly, because the Kingdom of Hawaii had treaties with England at the formation of the U.N. , Indigenous Hawaians have been able to access international courts to challenge U.S. sovereignty.

    But there is no such access for Aboriginal Australia because of Terra Nullius which has itself been institutionalised within the NAtive title regime, Native title is not deemed to be based on Aboriginal sovereignty but on the Queen’s common law as per the High court’s ruling on Mabo’s Murray Island case.

    International law is growing quickly as the world globalises and in particular as the internet is now exposing war crimes more than was ever possible before. Although tokenistic and powerless at present, indigenous perspectives are solidly implanted within the new international law such as the recent declaration on indigenous rights. It is not inconceivable that in the future an international court will be able to hear matters from Aboriginal Australia regarding sovereignty.

    There are some amongst the Minjerribah traditional owners who still assert Aboriginal Sovereignty and will not legitimise the Queens Sovereignty by signing up to native title.

    As I mentioned before, native title today is basically the right to do the same thing as the tourists do – to camp and go fishing. It is a very small reward for signing away traditional inheritance.

    The Quandamooka Corporation recently signed a land use agreement with the Redland Shire Council. Although this agreement acknowledges native title, the power that the traditional owners had in the negotiation was simply their presence on the Island, they cannot be ignored. It was not based on native title law as there has been no such determination.

    Power in real terms – economic power, political power, cultural power – is what traditional owners need. It is their own power and the realities of their lives that sustains them rather than any rights attributed to them by the Queen’s law.

    Don’t fret about the dysfunction of the native title process as it is a process that dis-empowers Aboriginal people, not just by extinguishing their claims to sovereignty but more importantly by tangling up a whole generation of leaders into a meaningless and unproductive direction.

    Native title has caused bitter disputes amongst families right across Australia. Families that once loved and supported each other are now bitter enemies and will not share any cultural information for fear it will be used in a rival claim.

    Native title has been a brilliant example of divide and conquer and is responsible for the present state of an exhausted, dissipated, and powerless Aboriginal political and cultural leadership.

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