The Larrakia People, or as they call themselves “The Saltwater People” are the traditional owners of the Cox Peninsula area in the Darwin region, with a population of about 2,000 people. The Larrakia identity is fundamentally connected to their land, sea and ability to trade with neighbouring Aboriginal peoples in the region. They have been fighting for their legal land rights since as far back as 1789 and officially since 1979.

Over 200 years later, on Tuesday, June 21st 2016 the Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, officially handed over 65 000 hectares of land back to the Larrakia community stating, “I acknowledge that Larrakia people have cared for this country for tens of thousands of years, that your songs have been sung since time out of mind,” ending what has been the longest -running land claim in Australia.

The Kenbi Land Claim officially began in 1979 when the Larrakia people lodged their intention to claim their land, and was followed by a gruesome battle wrought with rejections and appeals. According to the Land Rights Act, the Larrakia had to prove their traditional relationship to the land – known within the Act as ‘spiritual responsibility.’ The first attempt to claim the area of the Cox Peninsula was rejected in 1991 as the judge ruled that only one person was recognised as the traditional owner and the Act requires at least two patrilineal descendants.

In 2000 however, the land claim was successful because the Northern Land Council, a fundamental element to the outcome of the Kenbi Land Claim case, was able to prove the spiritual responsibility of six community members who were descendant from one ancestor. Despite serious opposition by the Northern Territory Government, due to the fear that the legal recognition of ownership by the Larrakia would lead to diminished development and prime real estate, last year the official land hand-back of the Federal Government took form in a nearly AUS 32 million dollar effort to clean up asbestos and other chemicals from the disputed land that had previously been used as a dumping ground.

On Tuesday the 21st of June the final settlement between the Federal Government, the Larrakia peoples and the Northern Land Council was agreed upon. The settlement is presented in a package that provides access for all ‘territorians’ to camp and fish (on the low to high water tide mark), 52 000 hectares of land allocated to the land trust and 13 000 hectares left as freehold land that will be administered through the Larrakia Development Corporation.

On that note, a word from the Larrakia Nation official website, a quote from the late Walter Fejo, “you have come by way of the Larrakia Land. You will hear the voice of Larrakia ancestors. When you leave, the Larrakia message will stay with you.”

Written by: Natalie Campbell, Consultant – Indigenous and Community Land Rights, ILC