To Graeme Neate,
President of the National Native Title Tribunal
Thank you for your letter of August 02, 2010 explaining the reasons for the delay of the Quandamooka land claim over the past 16 years.
One reason you give for the delay in the Quandamooka claim, was the decision in the Yorta Yorta case.
In that case decision, Olney J found that native title no longer existed due to a lack of continued connection by the claimants and all prior generations of their ancestors to the land subject to claim: the ‘tide of history has indeed washed away any real acknowledgement of their traditional laws and any real observance of their traditional customs.‘ This was upheld by the High Court.
That Yorta Yorta decision was wrong — the court relied (in part) on an account by one of my ancestors, Edward Curr, to say that the Yorta Yorta people had lost connection with the land.
The account the court relied on was a memoir my grandfather had written at the end of his life about his experiences with the Bangerang (Yorta Yorta) people when he was a young man and sheep farmer in the years 1841-1851. His memoir was called Recollections of Squatting in Victoria.
In that case the judges did not read in sufficient detail what Edward Curr actually described about his experiences nor do they seem to have any real understanding of what the Yorta Yorta people are saying.
There could never have been any doubt in Edward Curr’s mind who owned the land.
The Bangerang people were right there at his doorstep every day to remind him of their ownership and ancient connection with the land.
There is a story handed down in our family about Yorta Yorta men threatening our grandfather with spears. Lucky for me, they decided not to kill Edward Curr on that day. I would not be here writing this email to you. In the end the Bangerang welcomed him onto their land and taught him many things about respect for the land.
Edward Curr spent a large part of his life (1820-1889) learning the languages of the tribes that he met around the Murray River (Tongala). He later published what he learnt in a book called ‘The Australian Race’. No doubt his mind was clouded in part by ethnocentric bias.
What Edward Curr found out should never have been used to refute what his friends, the Yorta Yorta, people know. If anything it was European introduced smallpox that drove Bangerang people from the banks of the Murray river.
One of my nieces who lives in Victoria has been visiting Yorta Yorta elders on the Murray in recent years.
And so I am proud to say that the connection between my family and the Yorta Yorta people of the Murray River (Tongala) remains unbroken in the 170 years since my great great grandfather went unannounced onto their land.
It would be a great shame if the Native Title Tribunal were to ignore the legitimate claims of the Quandamooka people to their land.
3 August 2010