K’gari (Fraser Island) title deeds handed over to traditional owners, the Butchulla people

The title deeds for more than 22 hectares of land have been returned to the traditional owners of the listed K’gari (Fraser Island) on the Fraser Coast in Queensland.

It’s a “surreal” turnaround for the Butchulla people, who say it’s just the start of more land reclamation on the island.

The 22 acres consisted of two lots – one on the south side of the island and the other on the north tip near the Orchid Beach community.

In a ceremony held on the island on Tuesday, the state government handed over the title deeds to the Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation under the Aboriginal Land Act of 1991.

“Today is a very special day. There aren’t many words I can say, but I am very excited,” said Conway Burns, president of Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation.

“I had to do it to motivate our mob so they could sing and party with me.”

Man in traditional first nations paint and clothes stands in front of big tree.
Conway Burns says it was surreal to see the title deeds of parts of K’gari handed over.ABC Wide Bay: Lucy Loram

‘Just the beginning’

Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation secretary Chris Royan said traditional owners were determined to receive title deeds for an additional 17 properties on the island.

“This is a historic event for the 19 blocks of land we have applied for — these are the first two to be returned today,” she said.

“Hopefully we’ll have four more by the end of this year and by 2023 we want the whole thing back.

“This is just the beginning.”

A woman with black hair and glasses is standing on a beach.
Chris Royan says there are a total of 19 lots that Butchulla wants to reclaim ownership.ABC Wide Bay: Lucy Loram

Ms Royan said the process to secure ownership of the land started in 2018.

“The government was always talking about Unallocated State Land (USL), with the compensation claims yet to come,” she said.

“They took the USL off the table, so we decided to apply under the Aboriginal Land Act.

“We recognize today our former director Luke Barrowcliffe and Andrew McLachlan, from sources, who went ahead, researched and figured out which blocks we could apply for, and these are the first two with community consultation that we got back.”

Four women stand in a row laughing at a photo, trees and greenery in the background.
Julieanne Gilbert says it will now be “easier and faster” for the Butchulla people to secure title deeds for the remaining land.ABC Wide Bay: Lucy Loram

Assistant Minister of Health and Regional Infrastructure Julieanne Gilbert said work is already underway to get the remaining parcels back.

“Now that they’ve done the hard work and they’ve cleared the first hurdles [of applying]it will be much easier for them to work with the department,” said Ms. Gilbert.

“The department was very enthusiastic and has already started work on the next lot, so it will be easier and faster for [Butchulla] to realize these deeds.

A man takes a picture of a woman smiling and holding two documents in frames.
Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation started applying for the title deeds in 2018.ABC Wide Bay: Lucy Loram

‘The most beautiful day’

Ms Royan said she thought of her elders during the celebrations.

“It’s a happy time, but it’s also a sad time,” she said.

“We have lost many of our knowledgeable elders and without them this would not happen today.

“We’ve lost so many along the way, but they’re already here — the spirits of our ancestors are in this land.”

A woman in a dark, wide-brimmed hat stands in bushland.
Butchulla wife Shantel Ah Kit says the land can now be used to educate people about its cultural history.ABC Wide Bay: Lucy Loram

Butchulla wife Shantel Ah Kit said the title deeds meant more than just ownership.

“It’s more about taking care of the land — also taking care of what’s there for the visitors,” she said.

“It’s about education, awareness, the importance of taking care of our environment here… the land must come first.”

A smiling group of indigenous women holding up title deeds.
During the celebrations, the Butchulla people recognized their elders and ancestors who fought to get the land back.ABC Wide Bay: Lucy Loram

The Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation was now setting up cultural tours on the reclaimed land.

“Once we have land… we will turn that into profit,” said Ms. Royan.

“The most beautiful day of our lives will be the day we attend K’gari, live here and also take our elders to enjoy.

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