Chapter 5
Homelands Movement
A black and white painting of two Aboriginal people standing on shore with a boat of people approaching
In 1770, Lt James Cook declared Australia to be terra nullius even though Aboriginal people were living all over the country.
Terra nullius is a Latin term meaning 'land belonging to no one'.
The terra nullius status meant the British took over the land without treaty or payment.
It denied Aboriginal people’s prior occupation and connection to the land.
David Moore
Alyawarra Linguist
On Banjo and Land. David Moore is a Linguist and long time friend of Banjo.
For Aboriginal people, connection to land exists not on paper, but in the form of song, stories, artworks, and ceremonies.
To this day, it continues to be a long and complicated journey for indigenous people to prove their connection to their own land and reclaim it under the Native Title Act.
Lilly Morton and Angelina Luck, Banjo’s sister, talk about country
There are no English words to describe the link between indigenous people and their land.
For indigenous people, home can mean country, hearth, camp, life source, spirit centre and much more.
The English word land is too superficial. Homeland comes closer, but is still inadequate to describe the significance of country to indigenous people.
Aboriginal people have a profound sense of reciprocity with the land to which they belong.
The land sustains them and, in return, they sustain and manage the land through culture and ceremony. This idea is very different to the European/English notion of owning land.

Being taken from country, or witnessing the land being disrespected, damaged, or destroyed can have a real impact on the well-being of indigenous people.
Where did Aboriginal people go?
A black and white photo of Aboriginal women doing wash at Manbullo Station (N.T.)
Aboriginal Women doing Washing. Manbulloo Station (N.T.)
Colonisation brought a wave of previously unknown diseases – smallpox, influenza, venereal disease, and measles – into indigenous communities.
Governor Phillip reported that smallpox killed half of the indigenous people in the Sydney region within fourteen months of the arrival of the First Fleet.
A black and white photo of five Aboriginal women at a station, Borroloola region, Northern Territory, 1911
Five Aboriginal women at a station, Borroloola region, Northern Territory, 1911
A black and white photo of Sisters Nemertothy and Page weighing an Aboriginal baby, Hooker Creek Mission, Northern Territory, 1958
Sisters Nemertothy and Page weighing an Aboriginal baby, Hooker Creek Mission, Northern Territory, 1958
From the late 1860s, in response to ongoing concerns that Aboriginal people were dying out, the government set up spaces specifically for Aboriginal people to live on.
Reserves were parcels of land set aside primarily to separate Aboriginal people from white people. They were managed by state or territory governments.
Reginald McCaffery
Acting Director, Native Affairs NT
Missions were created and run by churches or religious individuals on land granted to them by the government.
Their purpose was to educate Aboriginal people, train them as Christians, and prepare them for work.

Stations were established by the Aborigines Protection Board from 1883 onwards. These were tightly controlled by station managers who controlled who could live there. Many people were forcibly moved onto and off stations.
A black and white photo of Aboriginal women and children sitting on a verandah at Brunette Downs Station, Northern Territory, 1930
Aboriginal women and children sitting on a verandah at Brunette Downs Station, Northern Territory, 1930
The pain of colonial displacement continues to travel down through the generations.
Reclaiming Alyawarra homelands
There are two different ways that Aboriginal people can have their relationship with the land recognised. Both are a result of legislation by the Australian government.
Land Rights
This involves the return of certain Crown lands to Aboriginal people as compensation for dispossession and the ongoing suffering and disadvantage that it caused.

Land Rights mean they own the land.
Native Title
This is the recognition of pre-existing traditional and customary rights and interests that Aboriginal people have in lands. Under the Native Title Act, Aboriginal people must prove a continuous relationship with the land.

Native Title does not give land ownership.
Land claims
Under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976
Reclaiming traditional land is a complex and expensive process. Applications can take decades to be resolved.
The Alyawarra’s traditional land included all or parts of pastoral leases of Macdonald Downs, Derry Downs, Bundey River, Delmore Downs, Utopia, Ammaroo, Elkedra and Murray Downs.

Since the 1970s, the Alyawarra people have undergone a long process to establish their claim to traditional land and to set up community-controlled councils.
A color photo of a car driving on a dirt road
A yellow image of Australia with a pin to show location of Honeymoon Bore
In 1976, Alyawarra families were granted a small plot at an area known then as Honeymoon Bore, about 10 km from Ammaroo Station.
A further excision 4 kilometres from Honeymoon Bore developed into the community of Ampilatwatja.
A photo of Banjo standing at Honeymoon Bore
Banjo at Honeymoon Bore
Alyawarra Native Title claims
In November 1995 the Alyawarra, Kaytetye, Warumungu and Wakay people lodged a group Native Title claim, known as the Davenport Murchison Claim.
In April 2004 this was granted, recognising the traditional owners of the Davenport Ranges National Park area. The Davenport Range mark the boundaries of their lands.
A photo of Davenport Ranges
Davenport Ranges
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A photo of Justice Mortimer and Eadie Homes, Federal Court at Honeymoon Bore 2014
Justice Mortimer and Eadie Holmes, Federal Court at Honeymoon Bore 2014
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In May 2011, Native Title was granted for Ooratippra Station, so that the Alyawarra not only had title to the land, but recognition of their right to be there.

A Native Title claim was lodged in October 2001 for the area of the Lake Nash station on the Queensland border. Native Title was determined in the favour of the Alyawarra in 2012.
In 2014, after a thirteen year wait, Alyawarra and Kaytetye speakers from 19 land-holding groups won recognition of their native title rights over 18,800 square kilometres of land in the Sandover region.

The area incorporated Ammaroo, Derry Downs, Murray Downs and Elkedra Perpetual Pastoral Leases.
A photo of Banjo receiving the Native Title document for Ooratippra
Banjo receiving the Native Title deed for Ooratippra.
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Alywarra Land Claim

In 1978 the Alyawarra and Kaytetye (pronounced “Kay-ditch”) claim was lodged for 1540 square kilometres of traditional land. Freehold title was granted in 1979 and held by the Alyawarra Aboriginal Land Trust.


In 1980 the Anmatjirra and Alyawarra land claim was successful in granting freehold title to the Utopia Pastoral lease.

A claim for 220 square kilometres of land on the Ooratippra station was lodged and title granted in 1991.

The Wakaya and Alyawarra Land Claim for the area around Hatches Creek was lodged.

22 October 1992

The Governor General, the Honourable Bill Hayden personally officiated at the land title handback ceremony. 2065 square kilometres were handed back to the Alyawarra people.


The lease to the whole of Ooratippra station was bought by the Indigenous Land Corporation from its white owners. In May 2000 the lease title was transferred to the Ooratippra Land Corporation. Comprised of the Irrkwal, Irrmarn, Ntewerrek, Aharreng, Arrty/Amatyerr and Areyn estate groups of the Alyawarra language group, this meant they could run their own cattle business on their own land. A Native Title claim was also lodged for the property.

On October 14, 2014, a special sitting of the Federal Court was held at Honeymoon Bore.
Justice Mortimer handed down a determination of non-exclusive native title, recognising the rights and interests of the Alyawarr and Kaytetye native title holders to access, hunt, gather and fish on the land and waters, use its resources, and conduct cultural activities and ceremonies in the area.

This meant that the current lessees could continue to operate Ammaroo, Derry Downs, Murray Downs and Elkedra (in perpetuity) and the native title holders’ rights can co-exist with the rights of the pastoral leaseholders.

In November 2019, a further 3000 hectares of Ammaroo Station was granted Native Title, extending the parcel of land on which the Ampilatwatja community sits.
“Lake Nash is my Home” from the Arpurrurlum Band
How Native Title came about
The historic Mabo Native Title claim had implications for Aboriginal land claims across Australia.
In 1982, Eddie Mabo and four other indigenous Meriam people began their claim for ownership of traditional lands on the island of Mer in the Torres Strait.`
A black and white photo of Eddie Koiki Mabo
Eddie Koiki Mabo
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A photo of Mer Island in the Torres Strait
Mer Island in the Torres Strait
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In June 1992, the High Court ruled in their favour. Unfortunately, Eddie and two of the other plaintiffs did not live to hear the ruling. The judgment provided a precedent for decisions on other land claims. It inserted the legal doctrine of Native Title into Australian law.

Native Title could operate concurrently with other titles such as pastoral leases. This gave the traditional owners a say in land they were unable to claim through the Land Rights Act.
In simple terms, the court found that the idea that Australia was a land which belonged to no-one – the very basis upon which Australia was colonised – was fiction in terms of supporting British ownership of land titles.
ABC, Sept 2019
RMIT ABC Fact Check 27 Sept 2019
A black and white photo of Mer Islanders displaying bow and arrow from 1960
Mer Islanders display bow and arrows, 1960
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Arrow pointing to the right
Alyawarra Country
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Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains images, voices and names of people who have passed away.

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