Native Title Determination Wenonah Headland

View from the beach in front of Aunty Marg Boney’s camp near Wenonah Head looking north towards Second Headland
View from the beach in front of Aunty Marg Boney’s camp near Wenonah Head looking north towards Second Headland

Hundreds of people are expected at Morgo Park Urunga on Friday when the Federal Court of Australia visits for a Native Title determination. 

Justice Joan Collier will announce the result when the court convenes in the park at 12.45pm on December 8.

The public is welcome to assemble from 10.30am, with lunch for the applicants' families served from 11am and an official welcome scheduled for 12.20pm.

The day's events are expected to conclude at 2pm.

The Gumbaynggirr (Boney-Witt) Native Title Claim over the coastal area south of Hungry Head, taking in Wenonah Headland, has been underway for 20 years.

Ms Margaret Boney began proceedings on behalf of Gumbaynggirr People on June 3 1998 by lodging an application for a determination of Native Title.  

Ms Boney, an esteemed Gumbaynggirr Elder, was born at Bellingen in 1937.  She is the great-great granddaughter of King Ben Bennalong, a Gumbaynggirr man who was born in the 1840s.  She lived for many years in a camp near Wenonah Head in the claim area. Sadly, she passed away in 2007 before the claim was finalised. 

The application has been amended a number of times (1999, 2000, 2001, 2016 and 2017) to change parts of the application, including to modify the claim area, amend the claim group description and to replace the applicant.

A final hurdle was cleared when Bellingen Shire voted on November 6  to proceed with the Native Title Application, after expressing an interest in ensuring a suitable level of public access to existing facilities and infrastructure at Wenonah Headland was maintained to this area as part of any determination.

In particular, this included the tracks leading to and around Wenonah Headland, a public toilet and shed, boat ramp, picnic tables and car parking.

Following a number of amendments in terms of the extent of the claim and input from other stakeholders such as the Coffs Harbour & District Local Aboriginal Land Council and the NSW Government, the matter progressed to the point where the interests of all parties had been adequately represented in the form of an agreement under Section 87 of the Native Title Act 1993.

Bellingen Shire mayor Dominic King said “I am very pleased that this long standing application has now reached a point where everybody’s interests have been suitably addressed.  This is a very significant milestone for the Gumbaynggirr people and I am pleased to have been a part of the process.”

The consent determination agreed by all parties recognises non-exclusive native title in over 90 per cent of the application area. 

Two areas were specifically excluded from the Application on 6 November 2017 so that a further NativeTitle application may be lodged over that area. The State, Aboriginal Land Council Parties and Gumbaynggirr People agree that the intention is that Native Title will be recognised over both parcels in the future claim.

The rights and interests recognised are listed below.

Of particular importance is the right to “access natural resources and to take, use, share and exchange those natural resources for any purpose”. This is the first time the words “for any purpose” have been used to describe the nature of that right. There is also no commercial qualifier.


(a)           access, to remain on and traverse the land and waters;

(b)           access natural resources and to take, use, share and exchange those natural resources for any purpose;

(c)                 hunt and gather traditional natural resources;

(d)                 fish;

(e)                 take and use water for personal, domestic, communal purposes (including cultural purposes) but not extending to a right to control the use and flow of the water in any creeks or intermittently closing and opening lakes and lagoons;

(f)                  live, being to camp on and erect temporary shelters and other temporary structures for that purpose, but not to permanently reside on, possess or occupy the land or waters;

(g)                 light fires for domestic purposes;

(h)                 conduct and to participate in cultural and religious activities, practices and ceremonies, including the conduct of burials;

(i)                   conduct and to participate in meetings;

(j)                   teach on the area the physical, cultural and spiritual attributes of places and areas of importance under traditional laws and customs;

(k)                 maintain and to protect from physical harm, places and areas of importance or significance under traditional laws and customs;

(l)                   to be accompanied by persons who, though not Native Title Holders, are:

(i)                   spouses, partners or parents of native title holders, together with their children and grandchildren; and

(ii)                 people required under traditional laws and customs for the performance of, and to assist in, observe or record, cultural activities, practices or ceremonies