Federal Court judge Jayne Jagot, who handed down yesterday’s historic decision.
Federal Court judge Jayne Jagot, who handed down yesterday’s historic decision. Adam Hourigan

Native title delays unfair as elders pass away: judge

A DECISION the Clarence Valley's Yaegl people have waited almost two decades to hear has been met with tears, embraces and proud cheers.

In a historical moment at Yamba's Pilot Hill, the Yaegl community won the right to use and enjoy their traditional lands at the settlement of a native title claim known as Yaegl #1 at a consent determination hearing

The acceptance of the Yaegl claim, which encompasses a large stretch of the Clarence River and its tributaries, also brought to a close the oldest legal matter that exists in the Federal Court of Australia; the claim was lodged in November 1996.

MORE: 20-year native title process for Yaegl people ends in joy

A second claim lodged four years ago, known as Yaegl #2, was also settled bar the seaward extent, a setback which was met with frustration shared by Native Title Services Corp CEO Natalie Rotumah.

"I know that Yaegl people hold the stories for the sea off Yamba and Angourie... and I urge the NSW government to recognise their connection without taking the matter to trial," she said.

In her closing speech, Federal Court judge Jayne Jagot strongly lamented the extensive and lengthy legal process the Yaegl had to endure to obtain recognition of who they are as a people.

Just to establish a basis for their claim, the Yaegl's native title claimants had to file 39 witness statements and affidavits, seven anthropological reports, two historical reports, various genealogical reports and give evidence on country.

"One can't help but wonder why so much material... had to be prepared and provided so that meaningful negotiations could commence," Justice Jagot said.

"In the native title consent determination hearings I have presided over, people who start the claim often become too aged or infirm to see it through, or pass away never having seen their labours bear fruit. Delays of this kind sap away any sense of justice or fairness in the process. It erodes confidence in the institutions which serve our common interests. It can instil a sense of despair and incapacity in those who should be engaged in the process.

"These effects are intolerable and a short point I want to make is this - they now are no longer tolerated.

"That we have finally reached this milestone, belated as it is; it is a testament to the unity, determination and strength of the Yaegl people."



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