Thanks, Hal. Its good to have some constructive and informative discussion
on these issues, as opposed to the all too common cliches.
From: Hal Wootten <>
To: Birding-aus (E-mail) <>
Date: Monday, 10 April 2000 12:06
Subject: - conservation lands
>Michael Hunter's remarks about Aboriginal land purchases cannot be allowed
>to go without comment, for they are the sort of misinformation that gets
>accepted as truth and passed on to feed redneck prejudices.
>His remarks relate to the Northern Land Council, which, like the Central
>Land Council, is regularly the subject of misleading attacks by the
>Territory Government and others who dislike the effective way it has stood
>up for Aboriginal interests. Michael's account would leave the reader
>the impression that the Northern Land Council has $50 million a year to
>spend on land purchases, and has spent $11 million to purchase a 'pristine'
>pastoral property in Western Australia for 'grandiose' developments which
>the Aborigines concerned do not want.
>The Northern Land Council does not even operate in Western Australia, has
>funds to spend on the purchase of properties, is controlled by the
>Aborigines in its area of operation, and could not develop land except in
>accordance with the wishes of the traditional owners. Far from carrying
>grandiose development plans, its main service to Aboriginal landowners is
>through a "Caring for Country Unit" which assists them to redress the
>environmental damage caused by previous white owners. Only one cattle
>station in its area, Elsey, is even conducted on a commercial basis. Both
>the Northern and Central Land Councils are heavily involved in
>including assisting the traditional owners of Kakadu and Uluru National
>Parks. On a recent visit to the Central Land Council I was told of its
>pleasure in co-operating with Birds Australia over the proposal to buy
>The only body currently funded to purchase land for Aborigines is the
>Indigenous Land Corporation which at the present time has $28 million per
>year to buy back land for dispossessed Aborigines over the whole of
>Australia (see http://www.ilc.gov.au ). This does not go very far to
>redress the taking of a whole continent and to suggest that some of it be
>diverted to buy the "sacred places" of birders seems to me to be
>mean-spirited, to say the least, particularly when it would mean stopping
>traditional owners from regaining the land in question.
>It is remarkable that with all the environmental damage and development
>by white landowners over the years, complaint should be levelled at a
>proposal that one property should pass from white to Aboriginal ownership.
>If the Indigenous Land Corporation is buying the property, it is buying it
>from white pastoralists to return it to traditional owners from whom it was
>taken without consultation or compensation, and with brutal disregard for
>the fact that their whole way of life was being destroyed. If there is to
>be development, it will be because the traditional owners want it.
>Michael says that the real heritage of indigenous people is 'pristine
>That was the case before white settlement, but there is precious little
>pristine land left now, and pastoral stations are certainly not in that
>category. Aboriginals certainly often display a desire to return to their
>traditional country and care for it in the way that allows Michael to
>it as pristine after 40,000 years. But they have a number of problems,
>when they have been fortunate enough to get funding to buy it back.
>One is the constant pressure they are under from Governments and others,
>particularly funding sources, to engage in economic development and not
>leave land 'idle' - the opposite of Michael's criticism, showing they are
>damned if they do and damned if they don't. Just think of Aboriginal
>resistance to Government pressure to allow uranium mining for example.
>Another is the simple fact that without resort to economic development they
>and their children must remain poverty stricken and underprivileged in
>isolated welfare-dependent communities. Few of their properties have
>economic potential - those open to claim under land rights legislation are
>available only because no white person ever thought they were worth
>acquiring. Most Aboriginals do want education and opportunity for their
>kids, and are very conscious of the destructive effects of the prolonged
>welfare dependency in which they have been left since the great changes in
>the outback economy in the sixties and seventies destroyed their economic
>niches. If they do happen to get land capable of development, they cannot
>afford to ignore the opportunities. They tend to feel rather unsympathetic
>to whites who have destroyed most of the pristine character of the
>for economic gain but then think Aboriginals should forego their few
>opportunities so that wealthy white tourists can have a pristine
>There are ways around this, as the existence of Kakadu, Uluru and
>Mootawingee show. The indications are that traditional owners are very
>amenable to conservation schemes that do not seek to deprive them of the
>control of their land and allow them to get some economic return or
>opportunities for employment. There is room for some innovative thinking.
>I do not know Roebuck Plains pastoral station, but if it is being acquired
>for the traditional owners, and if it is the ornithological treasure house
>that Michael describes, one suggestion would be for Birds Australia to
>negotiate with the new owners to find ways to make it worth their while to
>protect key areas and make those areas accessible to birders, and to manage
>their whole property with an eye to the interests of bird conservation.
>Maybe it would be feasible to establish something like Cape York's Pajinka
>Lodge there, for example, and to find funds (eg through Environment
>Australia's Indigenous Protected Areas Program or a body like WWF) to
>some indigenous rangers to work with volunteers from birding groups. I am
>sure the Kimberley Land Council (if that is the appropriate body for the
>area) would be amenable to approaches that are respectful of Aboriginal
>interests and ownership, and that propose genuine partnerships of mutual
>These suggestions are off the top of my head. But for heaven's sake let us
>have no more embarrassing suggestions that the meagre funds available to
>restore some land to its dispossessed traditional owners should be raided
>give (often well-off) birders access to what are described with unpleasant
>sarcasm as their 'sacred places'.
>PO Box 255 Glebe NSW 2037 Australia
>Phone 02 9692 9354 Fax 02 9660 1503
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