Department of Premier and Cabinet Spokesperson Response to WJJWJ Settlement Agreement
3 August 2023, 5.45pm
The Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 provides a framework for out-of-court recognition of Traditional Owner rights, financial and land management packages and settlement of native title claims in Victoria, negotiated between Traditional Owners and the Victorian Government.
Signed in October 2022, this Recognition and Resettlement Agreement is between the Victorian Government and Traditional Owners and impacts Crown land only. It excludes freehold land and does not include the local council, with no impact on current council laws.
In addition to progressing Traditional Owner Settlements initiated by Traditional Owners, the Victorian Government is firmly committed to benefiting all Victorians by progressing Treaty and Truth and advancing self-determination for all First Nations People in Victoria, in partnership with the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.
In October 2022 the Barengi Gadjin Land Council (BGLC), acting on behalf of the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagulk People of the Wotjobaluk Nations (WJJWJ People), signed a Recognition and Settlement Agreement (RSA) with the Victorian Government under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 (Vic) (The Act).
The Act provides for an out-of-court settlement of native title. It allows the Victorian Government to recognise traditional owners and certain rights in Crown land.
A Public Notification was placed in thirteen publications across the Wimmera region in early March to notify local communities and the public of the agreement.
On 23 June 2023, BGLC held an Implementation Workshop at the Horsham Town Hall, attended by State Government executives, LGA CEOs and BGLC Board members, to discuss implementation of the RSA and key steps to ensure an ongoing dialogue between all parties.
Local council involvement: The agreement has no impact on current council laws and regulations and local councils are not a party to this agreement, which is between the Victorian Government and Traditional Owners. The agreement includes a ‘Local Government Engagement Strategy’ which provides proposed actions for local government. The proposed actions are non-binding and there is no regulatory obligation for local councils. There is also no regulatory obligation for local councils to employ WJJWJ People under the agreement. The Government has committed to facilitating the development of relationships between local government and BGLC on behalf of the WJJWJ People. The agreement provides the basis for the Traditional Owner Group's participation in public land and natural resource management. The Victorian Government acknowledges the WJJWJ People’s aspirations to have greater involvement in the management of water and biodiversity on their country and will work with them to progress this.
Victorian Traditional Owners Trust: The payment to the Victorian Traditional Owners Trust is an agreement between BGLC, the State of Victoria and the Trustee of the Victorian Traditional Owners Trust. The State will pay a settlement sum to the Trustee, to be managed as a separate trust for the benefit of the WJJWJ People. Under the agreement, the amount paid to the Victorian Traditional Owners Trust is confidential.
Statement from Barengi Gadjin Land Council regarding the Traditional Owner Settlement Act. 2010
Wednesday, 2 August, 2023 2.30pm
Wotjobaluk Nations Respond to Traditional Owner Settlement Recognition & Agreements
Barengi Gadjin Land Council (BGLC), the representative Aboriginal Corporation for the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagulk peoples of the Wotjobaluk Nations, are deeply saddened with recent media attention, and subsequent articles that have not had the voice of Barengi Gadjin Land Council heard.
Our native title was recognised in 2005 the first in South-east Australia for our Traditional Owners the WJJWJ Peoples of the Wotjobaluk Nations. The journey for recognition by the State with the Traditional Owner Settlement Act took over two decades of negotiation and hard work from our Elders and community and was recognised October 22, 2022. Our goal is to work collaboratively with the greater community with our recognised rights and inherent at the forefront of our partnerships.
Our agreement is not the first in the State with three other Traditional Owner Corporations recognised. The Traditional Owner Settlement Act was passed by the State Government in 2010. The Act allows the Victorian Government to make agreements with Traditional Owners to recognise their relationship to land and provide for certain rights on Crown land and other benefits.
The suite of agreements aligns to the WJJWJ Peoples’ cultural rights & responsibilities & legislative requirements to care for Country including strategies for effective & ongoing land management, cultural heritage, water, social and wellbeing plans implemented by local Government agencies.
BGLC work collaboratively with all government departments, Local Councils, land managers & private landowners. These agreements are public documents readily available on the department websites. It is the States responsibility to inform and service the general public & greater community sector on these agreements.
The statements made by various media outlets and individuals are inflated to cause sensation. The articles written and published are factually incorrect on the RSA, the information does not reflect open and inclusive pathways for greater collaboration and recognition.
BGLC has a responsibility to work for its members, and act on their best interests to care for Country & the continuation of WJJWJ culture & people. As a conduit for our community BGLCs role is to inform our members of its agreement, not local farmers and journalists. We are working to have respectful and essential conversations to ensure that all government departments and local councils that voices are heard, and our rights are upheld.
We will care for and heal Country by providing greater resources for land management within the agreement area, as well as create jobs and pathways for our future generations. The RSA will promote reconciliation and improve cultural and economic wellbeing of all WJJJWJ Peoples of the Wotjobaluk Nations.
BGLC are concerned that these articles are being deliberately misinformed in order to push a certain agenda.
The Voice to Parliament Referendum is an individual decision/choice for all Australians and all First Nations peoples. BGLC encourages every community to educate and inform themselves of the facts of the upcoming referendum regarding this historic campaign.
This statement is presented by the Traditional Owners, Board of Directors of Barengi Gadjin Land Council who represent the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagulk peoples of the Wotjobaluk Nations.
For further comment/interview with the Chair of BGLC
Contact: Charee Smith
Interim Co-Executive Officer
BGLC Manager, Media & Communications
Phone: 0408 811 459
Thursday, 27 October, 2022 5 pm
“If we follow Bunjil’s law and look after the country, then the country will look after us. …If the Wotjobaluk continue to follow Bunjil then things will go on as the old people would want.”
Uncle Jack Kennedy, 2003
We, the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagulk Peoples have lived in the Wimmera since the beginning of time. Bunjil (Dadjugwil) together with our other creation beings and ancestors, made the land, waterholes, animals and plants. Bunjil entrusted the Bram-Bram Bult brothers with our law. We were given the responsibility to look after our Country and culture, to keep it healthy and strong. Our ancestors cared for the lands and waters of our Country, following Bunjil’s law and practising and protecting traditional lore and culture. Our creation story of Tchingal, the giant emu, lies at the heart of our connection to Country. Our ancestors moved across Country from season to season following the availability of food and attending large gatherings for ceremony and trade.
“Country heals us and connects us to our dreaming stories, to our ancestors and spirits. It is the foundation of our future. If our Country is treated with respect and care, then it will continue to sustain us and provide for us.”
Barringgi Gadyin (renamed by Europeans as the Wimmera River) is our lifeblood. For our ancestors, it was an essential water source and provided abundant food. Plants were used for food, medicine and trade and, together with birds, fish and mammals, sustained us on our Country. Barringgi Gadyin continues to represent for us a spiritual and cultural connection to our ancestors and the descendants of eight identified ancestors:
Country, in this way, remains central to our health and well-being. While some of our families have moved off Country, they still maintain a strong cultural connection to it, cherishing and nurturing all aspects of land, water and heritage to preserve the strength and resilience of our Traditional Owner community.
We have always used fire as a tool to manage and look after Country. We have used it as a means of hunting, for gathering edible tubers and roots, and to help with ease of movement through densely vegetated areas.
The obtaining, dispossession, and control of our traditional lands, sometimes with extreme violence, were instigated through unjust government policy and, in our view, occurred unlawfully. This brought rapid and devastating changes for our ancestors, and the consequences of these acts continue to impact on our people today through intergenerational trauma. Some of our ancestors sought refuge at ‘friendly’ pastoral runs, where a sense of community was maintained. In 1857, in keeping with Government policies of the times, Ebenezer Mission was established. The site chosen for the mission was our ceremonial ground of Banju-Bunang. Many people of the Wotjobaluk Nations were moved there, and while cultural practices were discouraged, our sense of identity was maintained and the strength of our culture and connection to Country survived
Following the closure of Ebenezer Mission in 1904, some of our families were moved off Country to other missions and those that stayed lived on and around Barringgi Gadyin, moving into the nearby townships of Dimboola, Warracknabeal, Stawell, Horsham, Antwerp and Goyura. Today, many of our families have moved back to Wotjobaluk Country, and the Wotjobaluk Nations continue to cherish and nurture all aspects of our land, water and heritage to preserve the strength and resilience of our community.
“Our culture is our identity. It forms the basis of who we are, what we do and how we behave. Our wellbeing depends on our culture being alive and embedded in our community.”
In entering this Agreement the State acknowledges and respects the intrinsic connection between us and our Country. The State recognises the importance of Country as our source of spiritual and physical sustenance.
The State recognises that the arrival of Europeans in Victoria in the 1830s caused a rupture in our spiritual, social, environmental, political and economic order. Our food and water sources and many important cultural sites and places were destroyed or damaged by European land uses. The State recognises that many of our people were massacred as part of the process of European colonisation or died through contact with European diseases to which they had never previously been exposed. The State acknowledges that the Wotjobaluk Nations never ceded their Sovereignty.
In entering this Agreement the State acknowledges that the policies and practices of successive governments, their agencies, other organisations and individuals substantially obstructed the ability of our people to speak language, to practice and pass on our traditional lore and customs and to access our Country and its resources. The dispossession of our people from our Country has had a devastating impact on our health and well-being and has prevented wealth from that Country being passed down through the generations. The State acknowledges that the resources flowing from our Country over the past 200 years have helped make Victoria one of the most prosperous States in Australia. The State acknowledges that our people did not share in this prosperity, including due to the development and implementation of laws over time that prevented our involvement in the management of our traditional lands and resources.
On 13 December 2005, the Federal Court handed down our native title determination, the first positive determination of native title in south-eastern Australia. The determination recognised, by consent of the parties, that our native title continues to exist in parts of the Wimmera and Southern Mallee. The determination was the result of a decade of struggle for formal legal recognition of our relationship to our Country for our current and future generations under contemporary Australian law.
In acknowledging the significance of the determination, Justice Merkel observed that Aboriginal Peoples in south-eastern Australia “suffered severe and extensive dispossession, degradation and devastation” as a consequence of British settlement. He further noted that the outcome of the Wotjobaluk claim was “a living example of the principle...that traditional laws and customs are not fixed and unchanging” and that, as a consequence, the foundations of the groups rights to Country had survived.
The 2005 native title determination was accompanied by a package of agreements that included: an Indigenous Land Use Agreement with the State of Victoria; recognition of our close ties to our traditional lands; the transfer of culturally significant land parcels; licensing arrangements for hunting, fishing and gathering; a consultation process for Crown land use; and a Cooperative Management Agreement over areas including parts of the Little Desert and Wyperfield National Parks and Mount Arapiles-Tooan State Park (collectively the 2005 Settlement Agreements). It also included funding for the Barengi Gadjin Land Council Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC (BGLC).
In entering this Agreement, the State recognises that: over many generations, our people have fought to protect and maintain our special relationship with Country; the native title determination was pursued at a significant emotional cost to our people; and from 2005, a lack of resources has stymied implementation of the 2005 Settlement Agreements and prevented us from enjoying our native title rights to their full extent.
In the face of these many challenges, we continue to assert and exercise our rights to our Country, to actively care for Country and to build on the strength of our community. In 2007, the BGLC was appointed as the Registered Aboriginal Party under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 (Vic) with responsibility for the protection and management of cultural heritage over much of the 2005 Settlement Agreements area. The 2005 Settlement Agreements, despite the difficulties with implementation, have created opportunities to strengthen relationships and provide input into the management of our Country. In 2013, part of the title to Ebenezer Mission was transferred to the BGLC and work is underway to ensure the remaining title is also transferred. Negotiations towards this Recognition and Settlement Agreement began in 2017, a further step in the journey to strengthen our rights over our Country.
Our culture and community identity remains strong. There is an ongoing commitment to build on the strength of connection to Country and culture, to develop stronger partnerships with key organisations, to engage in joint management of culturally significant parks and reserves, and to seek opportunities for economic development to build a sustainable future for our people.
“We are the custodians of this land and we have a responsibility to our Country and all who live on it. Recognising our traditional rights and respecting our knowledge and cultural obligations is a critical part of moving forward in harmony with the broader community.”
The Wotjobaluk Nations and the State of Victoria have come together in good faith to reach this Recognition and Settlement Agreement, to recognise and give effect to the Traditional Owner rights under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010.
The State has reached this Recognition and Settlement Agreement with the BGLC as the Traditional Owner Group entity appointed by our people to represent us in relation to the area covered by the agreement and for the purposes of and roles under the agreement.
This Recognition and Settlement Agreement builds on our existing native title recognition. It is a significant and respectful further step towards redressing the devastation and destruction that was brought about by the unjust dispossession of our family, country and lifeblood by the colonising Europeans. The agreement marks the beginning of a renewed and enduring relationship between us and the people of Victoria, represented by the State, and based on mutual trust and cooperation, good faith and respect. The agreement will help pave the way for a future for our people that is founded on principles of justice and self-determination. It will provide the means to provide for our economic self-determination and for our culture, traditional practices, and unique relationship to country to be recognised, strengthened, protected and promoted, for us and for all Victorians, now and into the future.
Barengi Gadjin Land Council Board of Directors have signed the following agreements in Melbourne Tuesday, 25 October, 2022
Recognition and Settlement Agreement (and Natural Resource Agreement, which forms part of the Recognition and Settlement Agreement):
Traditional Owner Land Natural Resource Agreement:
Traditional Owner Land Management Agreement:
The Traditional Owners Land Use agreement will be negotiated as part of Stage (2) with the state.
"This is a landmark moment for our people, culminating in 30 years of recognition for our people. The settlement is a celebration of resilience and tireless work, though there is sadness for those we lost through the journey. The Board and WJJWJ family groups will take this time to honour our Elders and original trailblazers. We hope they're looking down on us with great pride and will guide us to acknowledge our past and how we can shape our future by following Bunjil's law for caring and protecting our Country". Dylan Clarke Chair, Barengi Gadjin Land Council Aboriginal Corporation.
Over the next year, BGLC staff, with the support of the WJJWJ people, will gather to discuss implementing the settlement and vision for economic growth and the role of caring for Country.
For further comment or interviews with the Chair, please contact: -
Manager Communications + Media
and Interim Co-Executive Officer
Phone: 0408 811 459
 William John Kennedy (Uncle Jack), cited in Clarke on behalf of the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagulk Peoples v State of Victoria  FCA 1795, paragraph 8-9, pp. 4-5
 Growing what is good, Country Plan, voices of the Wotjobaluk Nations, 25.
 Draft Strategic Plan of the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia & Jupagalk Peoples 2016 5.
 Clarke on behalf of the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagulk Peoples v State of Victoria  FCA 1795, paragraph 2,
 Clarke on behalf of the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagulk Peoples v State of Victoria  FCA 1795, paragraph 11, pp.6-7.
 Draft Strategic Plan of the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia & Jupagalk Peoples 2016, 7.