Landmark agreement signed

A LANDMARK agreement between Gunaikurnai land owners and the state government was signed at Stratford’s Knob Reserve at the weekend, to guide the joint management of 10 parks and reserves in Gippsland.

The agreement, part of Victoria’s first Joint Management Plan, recognises the traditional land owners’ claims to Crown land in Gippsland, and is the first native title claim settled under Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010. The claim granted traditional land owners land rights to a vast area from west Gippsland near Warragul, east to the Snowy River, and north to the Great Dividing Range, incuding 200 metres of sea territory offshore.

State Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio and Gunaikurnai traditional owners launched the JMP on Saturday, which will deliver opportunities for knowledge sharing, employment and education, and improve park visitor experiences.

It was a day of celebration and culture, with groups from across Gippsland and Melbourne performing traditional dances and singing in language after a smoking ceremony.

The celebration was also a culturally-safe community day, with live music from Black Satin and plenty of activities.

The JMP is the result of significant work by the Gunaikurnai people, Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation, Gunaikurnai Traditional Owners Land Management Board and the state government.

The plan is a sign of respect, according to Gunaikurnai Land And Waters Aboriginal Corporation chairman Brian Stevens.

“The plan will help us make the most of the benefits of this partnership, it’ll ensure the interests of our mob are put first, it ensures the perspectives and values of traditional owners are supported,” he said.

“I encourage all of us to work together on our own lands as we move forward on a journey towards a process of deep healing, and a comprehensive and collaborative approach that leads us to the benefits of self-determination.”

Gunaikurnai Traditional Owners Land Management Board chairman Grattan Mullett said it had been a huge collaborative effort.

“There’s strategies and actions that will support and guide the Gunaikurnai people in the state to work together to actively protect and promote Gunaikurnai culture, land, and waters, and bring strength, knowledge, skills and innovation to support us in that role,” he said.

“It’ll also provide opportunities for Gunaikurnai people to maintain and build their strong connections to the joint managed lands, and ensure the younger generation also have that opportunity.

“It also provides an opportunity for the broader community understand, learn about, and respect Gunaikurnai culture — it’s about understanding who we are as Gunaikurnai people, and our place on our country.”

Ms D’Ambrosio said mistakes from the past needed to be recognised.

“This is a significant demonstration of our government’s commitment to restoring justice for traditional owners, and this JMP sets the framework for a genuine partnership, where traditional owners can have cultural practice, but also the direct roles and responsibilities for managing 10 parks and reserves in this really special part of Victoria,” she said.

“Unless you acknowledge the errors of the past, the injustices of the past, you can’t move forward, and that is why this JMP was entered into in good faith and trust once land titles matters were resolved a number of years ago, and there’s been a lot of really strong dedication and collaboration to really understand what it is for us to have traditional owners connected back with country.”

The plan includes the right for Gunaikurnai people to use Crown land for traditional purposes such as hunting, fishing and camping, in accordance with existing laws.

In 2010, the Federal Court recognised the Gunaikurnai people’s native title rights over much of Gippsland. At the same time, the state government entered into legal agreements under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act acknowledging the Gunaikurnai’s traditional owner rights, including the signing of a Recognition and Settlement Agreement. The land agreement formally recognised the Gunaikurnai as traditional owners in Gippsland.

The parks and reserves under Aboriginal title and included in the plan are Buchan Caves Reserve, Corringle Foreshore Reserve, Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park. Gippsland Lakes Reserve at Raymond Island, Lake Tyers State Park, Mitchell River National Park, New Guinea Cave (within Snowy River National Park), Tarra-Bulga National Park, The Knob Reserve, Stratford, and The Lakes National Park.

For more on the agreement, read Friday’s Gippsland Times.