National environmental organisation Friends of the Earth Australia has welcomed an historic native title claim win for the Githabul people, securing joint management over 20 national parks and state forests in the Kyogle and Tenterfield areas.
The NSW Government has agreed to hand over joint control of a large tract of the Githabul Nations traditional lands covering more than 6000 square kilometres of World Heritage-listed national parks and state forests near or around the Border Ranges and Richmond Range.
It is being described as the largest-ever native title deal on the eastern seaboard.
The agreement is set to be signed at a ceremony late next month.
Friends of the Earth spokesperson Binnie ODwyer said only public lands were able to be claimed by the Githabul people and not freehold land in the general area of the original native title claim.
Given the way the native title legislation works, there is very little ability for traditional owners to gain control over their lands; it is only the public lands that are available for claim therefore, we need to be supportive of such claims on national parks as one element in achieving land justice for these communities, Ms ODwyer said.
NSW Department of Lands director-general Warwick Watkins said the government aimed to finalise the agreement by the end of February, including approval by the Federal Court, and have it registered with the National Native Title Tribunal soon after.
Mr Watkins said the agreement also provided for the transfer of 20 parcels of public land totalling some 120 hectares to the Githabul Corporation on behalf of the Githabul people.
The recognition will allow the Githabul people to exercise traditional laws and customs including the right to hunt, fish and gather for personal use, and to protect cultural sites, he said.
National Parks and Wildlife Services director-general Tony Fleming said public access to parks would not be affected by the agreement and tourism would also benefit from the landmark deal.
Indigenous Justice Advocacy Network spokesman Al Oshlack welcomed the deal, saying it was a progressive step forward and an important recognition for Aboriginal land rights.
The agreement is expected to create jobs and business opportunities while reducing welfare dependence.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.