Githabul - Return of Country

The (ancestors of the) Githabul people have lived in and around the lush forests of the ranges straddling the NSW-Queensland border for tens of thousands of years. In the 1840s they were brutally dispossessed by European settlement and the waves of pastoralists, gold diggers and timber cutters who wanted the riches of their land.

In 2007, 11 years after they lodged a claim, their native title rights were recognised over nine national parks and 13 State Forests.

After years of observing that logging was causing the forest ecosystems to collapse, in 2016 the Githabul blockaded a logging operation and stopped all logging in the 29,700ha of State Forests on their country.

In August 2018 representatives of the Githabul and NSW conservation groups signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to work together to get the care and management of these State Forests back into Githabul hands, and undertake rehabilitation of extensive logging dieback areas.

We need your help to make this dream a reality.

You can read the MOU here

We're proud to announce our Githabul Film was an official selection for the Byron All Shorts Film Festival 2019 and won a Highly Commended: Stories of Consequence and Social Impact Award.  You can watch the film below. 

What you can do

Become a supporter of the Githabul Return of Country campaign:

Ask any groups you are a member of to join up in supporting the MOU

Contact your local State and Federal members of parliament, and candidates for upcoming State and Federal elections, and ask them to support the Githabul being given care and control of the State Forests subject to their native title determination in accordance with the MOU.

Githabul Campaign Background

North-east New South Wales is one of the world's biodiversity hotspots with both its rainforests and eucalypt forests being identified as of World Heritage value. Its forests and their inhabitants date back for tens of millions of years to the lost continent of Gondwana.

Humans settled the region tens of thousands of years ago and for millennia lived in harmony with the environment. The first custodians of some 4,400 km2 in the upper Condamine, Logan, Clarence and Richmond River valleys, amongst the Border Ranges (separating Queensland and New South Wales), were the Githabul Tribe. They adapted themselves to the environment, with their culture and beliefs interwoven with the land, waters and wildlife. They derived their law and customs from the Nguthungali-garda (spirits of our grandfathers) which reside in significant landscape features and had many sites (jurbihls) of spiritual significance.

Their lives rapidly changed with the movement of European squatters down from the New England Tablelands in the 1840's, who forcibly and sometimes violently appropriated the land from the Githabul for their stock. Resistance was overcome. Retribution was brutal with indiscriminate killings of men, women and children, including by giving them arsenic laced flour. By 1846 most suitable country was occupied by squatters and their sheep. Their population decimated by fatal plagues of measles and smallpox, the Githabul became outcasts on their own land. Some worked for the squatters as cooks and stockmen.

Starting in the late 1850s there was a massive influx of thousands of diggers in a series of gold rushes.

In 1908 Aboriginal Reserves, termed "homes", were established at Stoney Gulley near Kyogle and at Muli Muli, near Woodenbong. There the Githabul were expected to live "on their own land" and were reported as being treated by "blundering officialdom in a callous inhuman manner", made to live in windowless and leaky "hovels" on poor rations. For a while the Githabul persisted in maintaining camps throughout the region. In 1936 the Aborigines Protection Act allowed any Aboriginal to be removed by court order to a reserve. Managers were installed, and "heathen practices" (such as corroborees) and speaking their language prohibited. In some instances families were rounded up with stockwhips. In 1940 Stoney Gulley was sold by the Welfare Board to local farmers and the Githabul moved to Muli Muli.

Initially land clearing and logging was associated with the squatters. In the 1840s Red Cedar-cutters began working their way up the rivers from the coast in search of the "red gold". Logging extended into the Border Ranges in the 1880s as Red Cedars became scarce elsewhere. Sawmills were established in the region in the early 1900s to log Hoop Pine and select rainforest species. State Forests began to be established in 1909. As Hoop Pine became scarce the Urbenville Reafforestation Project was launched in 1939 with the aim of clearfelling of rainforests on the basalt plateau and converting them into Hoop and Bunya Pine plantations. Forest clearing and logging intensity rapidly accelerated as settler populations increased, farming practices changed and technologies advanced.

In 1995 the Githabul People lodged a native title claim over 140,600 hectares of their country. It took over 11 years for the Githabul's native title rights in nine national parks and 13 state forests to be recognised by the Federal Court in 2007. An indigenous land use agreement (ILUA) between the Githabul People, the Githabul Nation Aboriginal Corporation and the NSW Government was signed in 2007. It was largely a symbolic recognition, with non-exclusive rights to hunt, fish, and gather for traditional purposes, protection of culturally significant areas, a say in management of national parks and 4 indigenous persons positions with NPWS. They were granted ownership of 102 ha of their former lands.

The ILUA only provided the Githabul with an opportunity to be consulted about the management of the State Forests. Regrettably in the wake of repeated and intensifying logging, weeds (notably lantana) have invaded and the ecological processes in large areas of the remnant forests are in collapse. The lantana smothers the understorey and stops the trees regenerating, while the altered ecosystem has favoured the native Bell Miners, allowing them to proliferate and aggressively exclude most other native species. This in turn has allowed sap-sucking insects, called psyllids, to proliferate to the point where they are draining the life out of the surviving eucalypts. Large areas of these precious forests are now in terminal decline, with seas of lantana overtopped by dead and dying trees spreading like cancer. Each logging event compounds the problems.

As logging continued and dieback expanded it became too much for the Githabul and in 2016 they blockaded a logging operation and stopped all logging in 29,700ha of State Forests on their country. They are now in dispute with the NSW Government over their ILUA.

In 2018 a consortium of the Githabul Tribe and NSW Conservation groups signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the intent of:

  • Transferring care and control of 29,700ha State Forests for which Githabul Native Title rights are recognised, from the NSW Government to the Githabul Tribe.

  • Preparing a comprehensive Plan of Management to safeguard conservation and cultural values and prioritise rehabilitation works.

  • Obtaining State and Commonwealth funding for a comprehensive 15 year rehabilitation plan to arrest and repair forest dieback on Crown lands as part of a Githabul Caring for Country program.

  • Creating more NPWS positions and training for Githabul Working on Country in National Parks in the Kyogle area.

  • Transferring the care and control of Crown lands around the Tooloom Falls Aboriginal Place to the Githabul Tribe.

  • Assisting in the establishment of a Githabul Cultural and Tourism Centre on their land at Roseberry Creek.

  • Obtaining World Heritage Listing for qualifying National Parks in the region.

We wrote to the NSW and Commonwealth Governments, and various aspiring politicians, asking them to support this initiative, which is more fully outlined in our letter to Premier Gladys Berejiklian 

Despite this, in 2018 the NSW and Commonwealth Governments issued a new North East NSW Regional Forest Agreement, effectively forever as it is allowed to be extended indefinitely. In 2022 Wood Supply Agreements for mill owners, to lock in logging of these publicly "owned" State Forests, were extended until 2028. The Governments ignored the Githabul Tribe's hopes and aspirations, while guaranteeing more decades of gross mismanagement by the Forestry Corporation.

Go here to read more about Logging Dieback, or see the video prepared by the BMAD Working Group  or to find out more about rehabilitation see these videos by Wayne and Sue Sommerville 


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  • Laura Randall
    commented 2022-09-09 01:51:29 +1000