Residents in White Cliffs are unhappy with the agreement surrounding the ownership of dugout homes.
A push for freehold, that spanned two decades, has now left many locals dissatisfied and worried about the future after it could not be negotiated by NSW Crown Lands.
Instead, residents were offered a permanent lease consented by the Barkandji Native Title Corporation under the Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs).
Dugout resident, Lindsey White, said he and other residents felt “let down” of the outcome, many of whom were already stressed over the situation that could reached critical level.
“That’s the last thing we wanted – we want freehold,” he said.
“We have the Flying Doctor coming with health professionals every week talking to people.
“We have people, if they are going to lose their house, threatening suicide.”
Mr White, who has lived in the town for 55 years, believes they deserve outright ownership of the dugouts which he claims was initially promised by NSW Crown Lands.
“We’ve been pushing for freehold since 2000,” he said.
“They wrote to us and said our license needs to be something better, they proposed freehold which we all agreed too.
“But in seventeen years, Crown Lands could not even achieve that.”
Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs) are agreements with Native Title holders about the use and management of areas of land where Native Title has been determined.
For the dugout leases to be granted, an ILUA with the Barkandji Registered Native Title Body Corporate (RNTBC) was required.
Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) – Crown Lands stated the ILUA provides White Cliffs residents the highest form of Crown land tenure while preserving Native Title rights.
“Freehold title over the dugout residences is no longer compatible with the Barkandji’s Native Title Rights over the land,” a spokesperson said.
“The Barkandji have consistently said that they want residents to be able to stay in their homes in a way which could coexist with native title.
“Under the ILUA, the Barkandji Native Title holders have consented to permanent leases or licences to provide secure tenure to dugout residents.”
Residents will be able to transfer leases to family members or sell them if they wish.
The NSW Government department stated it complied with both a Federal court ruling and Federal legislation (Native Title Act 1993) in regards to the rights of the Barkandji.
The negotiation of an ILUA was reportedly a “confidential process” between Crown Lands (DPIE) and the Barkandji RNTBC.
Mr White believes locals should have been involved in the process while ongoing discussions were being held.
“Crown Lands have been calling the people up here tenants,” he said.
“Where are you going to find a tenant that builds and maintains their own home – we pay the rates to the (Central Darling) Shire.
“By calling us tenants, they can leave us out of negotiations.”
According to Crown Lands, key parts of the agreement in relation to the consent of the Native Title holders to future acts and any conditions attached have been discussed with dugout residents.
Mr White said residents will now decide what decision they will take over the coming weeks.
“We’ve got about three months before this has to be signed,” he said.
“We’ll see what happens in the next few weeks because the wheels are turning hopefully to help us.”