On 26 October 2018 the Victorian Government, the Taungurung Land and Waters Council Aboriginal Corporation (TLaWCAC), and the Taungurung Traditional Owner group signed a suite of agreements under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 (Vic), and related legislation. The agreement was signed after a 15-year campaign by traditional owners and three years of settlement negotiations.

The Recognition and Settlement Agreement has now come into effect. This means that ownership of nine Victorian parks and reserves, include Mt Buffalo National Park and a section of the Alpine National Park, and up to five surplus public land parcels have been transferred to the Taungurung Traditional Owner Group.

The following information comes from a media release from the Victorian government.

The Recognition and Settlement Agreement commenced on August 11 and ratified a suite of agreements under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 (Vic), and related legislation made in October 2018 between the Victorian Government, the Taungurung Land and Waters Council Aboriginal Corporation (TLaWCAC), and the Taungurung Traditional Owner group.

The settlement package formally recognises the Taungurung people as the Traditional Owners for part of central and north eastern Victoria.

The package includes:

  • funding to support TLaWCAC to manage the settlement’s benefits and obligations, and undertake economic development
  • measures to strengthen Taungurung culture
  • grants of nine parks and reserves as Aboriginal title, and up to five surplus public land parcels as freehold title
  • a regime for managing activity on public land, and
  • resourcing and strategies for the Taungurung people to access, use, and manage natural resources.

More information.

How will this impact activity?

Existing leases, licences and other rights and interests will be protected for their full term. Examples include farming, fishing, grazing and forestry.

The renewal of alpine resort leases has been excluded from the list of negotiated activities.

Recreational activities like hunting and fishing will not be affected.

The agreement recognises Taungurung people’s rights to access public land within the agreement area to hunt, fish, camp, and gather natural resources.

The Taungurung will have an opportunity to have a say or consent to certain activities on public land, and in some cases, ‘community benefits’ are payable to the TLaWCAC.

What parts of the state does this cover?

The following areas will be granted to the TLaWCAC as Aboriginal title:

  • Alpine National Park (the part of the Park situated within the Taungurung Agreement Area)
  • Heathcote-Graytown National Park
  • Kinglake National Park (the part of the Park situated within the Taungurung Agreement Area)
  • Lake Eildon National Park
  • Mt Buffalo National Park
  • Mt Samira State Park
  • Cathedral Range State Park
  • Wandong Regional Park
  • Mount Wombat-Garden Range Flora and Fauna Reserve.

The Aboriginal title lands will be jointly managed by the state and the Taungurung through a Traditional Owner Land Management Board (to be established after commencement of the settlement).

In all cases, the parks and reserves will continue to be managed under the same Act of Parliament by which they are reserved, but will also be subject to a joint management plan developed by the Traditional Owner Land Management Board. Following public consultation, the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change considers the Board’s plan. The Minister’s approval is required before the plan comes into effect.

This agreement is being challenged

It should be noted that this agreement is currently being challenged in the Supreme Court. The case is called North East First Nations Elders v The State & Taungurung.

There was a determination against Taungurung, which was released in February. This calls the co-management of Buffalo National Park into question. This will return to court in March 2021.

According to a community media release,

‘Elders from three First Nations in North East Victoria continue to exert their legal rights in the Supreme Court of Victoria (SCV) and the Federal Court of Australia (FCA) by objecting to the $34+m ambit agreement between the Taungurung and the Victorian Government in October 2018. Elders are opposing the deal on a number of grounds particularly because they believe that the agreement will be detrimental to their respective Victorian Treaties.

‘Besides the substantive legal arguments, the Elders are objecting to the ambit boundaries in the northern sector of the claim (Ovens River, Bright, Nagambie, and Mt Buffalo areas) and the insertion of Ancestors who are not Taungurung (Eliza and her daughter Louisa Sheppard, Charles Tattambo, Lydia Beaton and others). There is also concern that other Ancestors have been excluded including the well documented Peter Hunter (the husband of Louisa and his father Lanky)’.

Dhudhuroa Theddora Mittung say: ‘We support the four Elders who continue to fight for justice to protect our Ancestors and uphold our rights to country and our unbroken connection to our land and waters. Our Dhudhuroa, Ngurai Illum Wurrung and Waywurru Elders ancestors and country have been stolen from our Elders by reason of the agreement made by the government and the Taungurung’.

UPDATE: 20 FEB 2021

There has been another development in the long running campaign by a group of traditional owners to challenge the Indigenous Land Use Agreement between the Victorian government and the Taungurung Land and Waters Council Aboriginal Corporation (TLaWCAC).

Radio National reports that the Federal Court has found that ‘significant errors’ occurred when the agreement was made, because concerns expressed by the other traditional owner group were not taken into account.

TLaWCAC have asked for a stay on deregulation so that the matters raised may be resolved.

For an update on the Federal Court decision, please check here.

Reactions to the agreement

The Taungurung Agreement is the second such agreement in Victoria, with the last completed in 2013 with the Dja Dja Wurrung corporation.

(More will be added as they become available)

TLaWC chief executive Matthew Burns says “It’s a pleasing recognition after such a long journey, which will help many Taungurung community members to heal.”

Victorian Nationals Leader and Opposition Aboriginal affairs spokesman Peter Walsh said the Andrews Government needed to ensure the Taungurung agreement did not “pit the rights of Traditional Owners against our farmers and landholders”.

The vice president of the Prospectors and Miners Association of VIC say:

‘I acknowledge the aboriginal clans of Australia, their elders past and present. I respect and am proud of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. I have Aboriginal blood in my family, but have never even claimed this for my own purposes. On my birth certificate I am proudly Australian first and foremost.

What I will not abide is greed, self interest and divisiveness from any group, including companies, governments and corporations representing minority groups albeit indigenous.
‘The PMAV will work with Aboriginal Elders to preserve important sites, flora and fauna BUT will not negotiate any form of payment with corporations to continue doing what we and our ancestors have done for generations.
We hope to reach out to these groups soon’.

The Mountain Cattleman’s Association of Victoria have ‘cautiously’ supported the announcement.