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Fiefdoms are robbing Aborigines of their right to their own castle

By Wesley Aird - posted Monday, 19 March 2012

Australia fell in love with Darryl Kerrigan 15 years ago as he fought for the family castle even if it was right next door to the airport. There was something universal about his struggle, but Darryl Kerrigan is not the Australian everyman and property rights are not universal in modern Australia just ask the residents of Baniyala in East Arnhem Land.

Most of us can empathise with the right to own our own castle, whether it be an apartment, a standalone house or on a couple of hundred square metres - or even a property stretching for square kilometres.

It is a commonly accepted right that every family that has the financial means be able to buy (or build) their own residence which, all going well, will provide security and intergenerational wealth.


If we believe in the value of the family home then it follows that a family home should be achievable on the same terms and conditions for all Australian households, regardless of where it is and regardless of the race or culture of the residents.

For years, the residents of Baniyala, the largest outstation in the region, have struggled against the indigenous industry in an attempt to build private houses on their land to ease housing congestion and to improve their lot in life.

Yet somehow it is all too hard, even though, in East Arnhem Land, there is no shortage of land and there is no shortage of money, as we are assured by the Productivity Commission and the federal Department of Finance and Regulation.

For the residents of Baniyala, the big problem is the joyless, bureaucratic merry-go-round of the federal Indigenous Affairs Department under Jenny Macklin, the Northern Territory government and the Northern Land Council. Each agency is happy to spruik its commitment to overcoming indigenous disadvantage and each has a well-funded role in the regulation of land and housing for indigenous people. After years of repeated attempts by the community, not one of these agencies seems able or willing to resolve the seemingly simple matter of 99-year leases for Baniyala.

This is a community that is fed up with the discrimination and is demanding the right to survey a block of land, pay for it and take responsibility for the building they put on it.

This is not about Aboriginal culture. This is about the culture of indigenous affairs which can be distilled as government and quasi-government agencies controlling the money and wielding control over disempowered communities.


The problems witnessed by the people of Baniyala are repeated all over the country. So many indigenous Australians suffer discrimination because of the very mechanisms that the government assures us will "close the gap".

It is time to put an end to the destructive fiefdoms established with ministerial blessing and taxpayer money. It is time to end the separate structures and programs that do more damage than good.

You don't need to be a lawyer to know that the situation in East Arnhem Land and many other places like it is plainly discriminatory and wrong. As Dennis Denuto would say: "It's the vibe of the thing, your honour."


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This article was first published in The Australian on March 15, 2012.

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About the Author

Wesley Aird is a member of the Gold Coast Native Title Group. For more information see

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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