From the Newsroom

Members of the Yaegl Wadyarr Gargle Land and Sea Management Contracting Team, who specialise in the management of lands within Yaegl traditional country. Image: Geoff Helisma

Yaegl People celebrate a step towards self-determination

Geoff Helisma


The NSW State Environmental Planning Policy (Aboriginal Land) 2019 aims to “to provide for development delivery plans for areas of land owned by local Aboriginal land councils [LALC]” and “to declare specified development carried out on land owned by LALCs to be regionally significant development” – last Saturday June 25 the Yaegl Traditional Owners Corporation (YTOC) held a gathering at Hickey Island to recognise and promote another step towards self-determination.

New South Wales Fisheries (Department of Primary Industries) partnered with YTOC “to hold this important event and share Yaegl People’s cultural, social and economic aspirations for sea and country”.

The celebration and announcements marked the anniversary of the June 25, 2015 Native Title determination overseen by Justice Jayne Jagot at an extraordinary sitting of the Federal Court of Australia at Pilot Hill, Yamba.

In July 2021, the Australian and NSW governments announced $900,000 in funding, to establish ‘Yuragir Camping’ at the Yamba site.

At the time, Page MP Kevin Hogan said, “This will involve business planning, the design of pop-up transportable tent structures, the provision of a trailer, furniture and fittings, cooking facilities, power, and water.

“The proposal also includes all the facilities needed for camping, including a camp kitchen and amenities, communal fire pits and onsite accommodation options.”

At the event, YTOC’s CEO told the Independent that the Yaegl Traditional Owners Corporation Registered Native Title Bodies Corporate (RNTBC) “has been up and running now for about six years”.

“During that time, we’ve looked at our capacity building capability among the community,” he said.

Mr Walker said that establishing an eco-camping site on Hickey Island, will help provide “a stable economic base” for his community.

“It gives us self-determination, which all Aboriginal communities envisage, and which is part of their aspirations.”

The day was personally significant for Mr Walker.

“Today is also special for me because this is a day [in 2004] that we buried my mother [Aunty Della Walker]”, who was an inspirational leader and author of Me and You: The Life Story of Della Walker (edited by Tina Coutts) – “Whether you are a white person or a black person, caring and sharing is what it is all about; me and you together that’s the beauty part of it,” she wrote in 1989.

“It’s important that we form a relationship with NSW Fisheries,” Mr Walker said; “that way we can move forward together.”

Paul Brooks, named the ‘Ballina Region Local Tourism Hero’ at the Destination North Coast 2021 Tourism Symposium and Awards gala dinner, said he and “our family company, Frontier Tourism,” is working in partnership with YTOC.

He said he and Mr Walker hatched the idea about seven years ago when they met at Brooms Head.

“The architect and the planner, who we’ve been working with for the last few months, are coming over today to see and celebrate this day,” Mr Brooks said.

“But it’s all about setting up a truly old school [eco-tourism] camping operation here, but with all the mod cons, while protecting nature and promoting culture … keeping it simple.”

During the formal part of the gathering, YTOC’s business manager, Paul Brown, outlined a vision for the future and opportunities for his community’s young people.

Afterwards, he spoke to the Independent about the roles he and team supervisor Elsdon Charlton fulfil.

“It’s a big part of our cultural way to pass down stories through the generations,” he said, agreeing that he and Elsdon are like a “bridge” between the elders and young Yaegl people.

“We’ve had the confidence to take our younger youth to the stage where we’re at now, to respectfully show our elders that we have a strong base unit, which has come from their teachings, and now we can take it to that next level.”

NSW Fisheries staff spoke about the opportunities and outcomes that are likely to come about as a result of their partnership with YTOC.