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(l-r) Yaegl Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC CEO William (Billy) Walker, YTOAC director and manager Dianne Chapman and artist Charlene Williams. Image: Geoff Helisma.

Yaegl moving forward: a sign for the times

Geoff Helisma |


Six new signs erected at strategic places along the new Pacific Highway and around Maclean have significant meaning for the Yaegl People – they are a symbolic step towards realising outcomes consistent with the historic native title decisions in 2015 and 2017.

The Federal Court’s Justice Jayne Jagot presided over two extraordinary hearings that took place on Pilot Hill, Yamba: the 2017 decision granted native title over “the intertidal zone and the seaward extent of Yaegl country”.

At that hearing she said: “Some two years ago, I said this: ‘Today, at last, the Yeagl people will be recognised as having that which they always, in truth, had, but which remained unrecognised by the common law of Australia – Yaegl title rights and interests in the land within the claim area.’

“…Today, two years later, we’ve come to rectify the omission [of the seaward claim].”

The new signs are part of a state-wide pilot scheme overseen by Transport for NSW – the launch included Yaegl Country and Darkinjung Country on the Central Coast.

“Many of the transport routes we take for granted today follow traditional Aboriginal song lines, trade routes and ceremonial paths in Country followed by Aboriginal people for tens of thousands of years,” Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole said in a media release.

Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis said the six signs unveiled across the Northern Rivers feature an artwork that reflects the Yaegl cultural landscape.

“Installing these signs showcases and promotes the deep connection Yaegl people have with Country and helps develop understanding in the broader community,” Mr Gulaptis said.

Yaegl Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation (YTOAC) RNTBC (Registered Native Title Body Corporate) CEO William (Billy) Walker said the YTOAC had worked with Transport for NSW “for most of 2020 … planning and looking at sites in Yaegl Country where these signs could be erected”.

“This is one of the first of many projects that are going to happen in NSW and I hope it sets a precedent for other Aboriginal people throughout NSW, to encourage their mobs to have a ‘welcome to country’ or acknowledging country no matter where you are,” he said.

“This project also involved a Yaegl artist, Charlene Williams, who set the scene for the corporation’s [logos and artwork] … and it will be used throughout Yaegl Country … entering from both the north and the south on the M1 highway, but also in and around Maclean.

“…the artwork says it all; it’s identifying Yaegl Country; it tells you about the other mobs we used to celebrate with [Bundjalung and Githabul] and have special gatherings.

“It also talks about the unique culture that Yaegl People have, from the mountains to the sea … and it talks about other Aboriginal groups and people who wish to come and visit Yaegl Country.”

Artist Charlene Williams said she initially painted the image used on the signs and for the YTOAC’s logo “for the love of my country and my people … for the love of my mother, my father and all of my family”.

“I titled it, My Mum’s Country.

“It shows 14 significant sites within our Yaegl Country and the footprints represent our people travelling from inland to the coast and travelling inland to trade with other tribes.

“I did it for an art competition; it didn’t win, but I knew it had a purpose.

“When they [the YTOAC] asked me to use it for the t-shirts when we won our Yaegl native title, I was so proud.

“There are a few different stories in the painting; you’ve got the Dirrangun at Tooloom Falls in Githabul Country [near Urbenville], the giant eel and how he created the Clarence River.

“He had barnacles on his back, and when he shook the barnacles off his back, they became the townships along the way, where all of our people lived … the circles, the dots, they represent the sacred areas in that country.”

YTOAC director and manager Dianne Chapman said the corporation has developed three strategies, to achieve the best cultural, economic and social outcomes on both a short and long term basis. “Under each of those we’ve got employment, education, culture, language and art … this is our first event where we are recognised as Yaegl People, so it’ very significant for us.”