A place to call home: Native Title granted to Iman people over lands surrounding Taroom and Wandoan

Justice John Reeves shakes hands with Heather Tobane on an historic day in Taroom on Thursday, when the Iman people were granted Native Title over their lands around Taroom and Wandoan.
Justice John Reeves shakes hands with Heather Tobane on an historic day in Taroom on Thursday, when the Iman people were granted Native Title over their lands around Taroom and Wandoan. Matthew Newton

THERE are moments in time where words, for what they are worth, fail us.

Thursday’s historic sitting of the Federal Court in Taroom, which concluded the Iman people’s 19 year battle to regain native title over their lands, was one of those moments.

With the consent determination made, Justice John Reeves adjourned the court, and a hush momentarily descended over the 400-strong gallery as thousands of years of Iman history, already inscribed upon the landscape, was officially inscribed in law.

No one knew what to say.

Then a voice from the crowd cried out: “Take a look around you people, we did it!”

And the room dissolved into cheers, applause, laughter and tears.

The late Patrick Bundi, an Iman man, once said, “To nearly all aboriginal people I have met; who I am is the same as where my family’s ancestors were from.”

His people can now stand proud knowing their connection to country has been officially recognised by the one of the highest courts in the land.

The native title consent determination made yesterday pertains to a 14,000 square kilometre area of land around the towns of Taroom and Wandoan.

The Iman people celebrated their successful native title claim in Taroom on Thursday.
The Iman people celebrated their successful native title claim in Taroom on Thursday. Matthew Newton

For Dena Dodd-Ugle, who gleefully described herself as a “former applicant”, yesterday was a momentous occasion.

She and her family had been a part of the push to regain native title over the land of her ancestors since it was first talked about 23 years ago.

It was her aunties who urged her to carry on the fight, no matter what.

“A lot of people have died along the way,” she said.

“It means so much to us - this is our country. It’s always been our country and now the Federal Court, one of the highest courts in Australia has determined it to be our country.”

Ken Waterton, who was instrumental in the successful prosecution of the native title claim, said he was “over the moon” at the determination.

“It means everything,” he said.

“It’s who we are, where we come from. (The land) is our mother and this is our coming home.”

Yesterday’s decision went a long way to recognising past wrongs, in particular the atrocities committed upon the Iman people by white pastoralists in the mid-19th century.

The worst of these atrocities was the massacre of thousands of Iman people in 1858 led by a man called William Fraser, who later became a cult hero in Queensland and never served time for the slaughtering of women and children.

The deaths of thousands of Indigenous Australians was a retaliation to the Hornet Bank massacre of 1857, where Iman people killed 11 settlers in response to a series of killings committed by Europeans.

Several academics had written that the Iman people were completely wiped out in the 1857 massacre.

“History wrote us off, but here we are,” Mrs Dodd-Ugle said, pointing to the 400-strong crowd and the many people who were unable to make the journey to Taroom for the historic occasion.

“There’s thousands of us now.”

Justice John Reeves, in summarising his determination, said yesterday’s court order did not grant Iman people native title.

Rather, it recognised their pre-existing native title and connection to country which spanned the 150 years since they were forced into hiding.

Just Us Lawyers’ Colin Hardie, the Iman people’s legal representative, said yesterday was the first step of recognition of their ancient culture and beliefs.

“This country is both the traditional country of their ancestors and of the current and future generations of Iman people,” he said.

“But beyond all, today is recognition that the Iman people have a future and not just a past.”

Topics:  federal court native title taroom wandoan

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