49. The Northern Land Council and Traditional Law

Richard Trudgen and Nikunu Yunupingu continue to look at the role of the Northern Land Council and whether the NLC works for Yolngu or is part of the government.

They discuss some of the history of land rights in Australia, including the Wave Hill walk-off and its results, and the court case of Milirrpum v Nabalco (disputing mining on the Gove Peninsula) and it’s impacts on Yolngu people.

Richard talks about the passing of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act Northern Territory 1976 and the creation of a separate body that exists between the 2 systems of law, called The Lands Council.  This now includes the Northern Lands Council, the Central Lands Council, the Tiwi Lands Council, and the Anindilyakwa Lands Council. These lands councils have a statutory responsibility back to the Federal parliament in Canberra.

This Act of law was made to give authority back to all the Aboriginal estate owners and traditional law and legal systems in the Northern Territory, where no Balanda leases or other authority over Aboriginal law or estates existed.

Richard explains that the Northern Lands Council has Djuŋgaya bureaucrats (all the people who work for them) who have a statutory responsibility under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act Northern Territory 1976. The Act says there has to be a council, that comes together for discussion of issues and to give approval for things or not.

However there’s an issue in that Yolngu yirralka waṯaŋu estate owners don’t actually elect the council. As the Council that sits between Balanda law and Yolngu law they have all the authority. The idea is that the Council should ensure the workers, (anthropologists, lawyers etc) are really listening to the Madayin system of law. It’s the full Council that has the powers of decision making, while the Executive is separate. The NLC is made up of 83 representatives, elected from across 7 regions.

Yet the reality is that Yolngu really don’t know what is the real role and work of the Lands Council and that the NLC is supposed to representing them. Many of the NLC employees are also confused about this, both Yolngu and Balanda.

Click here to view the full transcript of the series.

There are 4 stories in this podcast. Please see time stamps below-

  • Federal Government makes law for Land Councils. – 00:00
  • Role of NLC. Councils function not understood. – 11:07
  • NLC covers 7 regions. – 20:02
  • NLC council and executive. – 30:02