The Gregory River Case (1998)

Mabo Day in June 1998 saw the Waanyi People win a further victory in their fight to protect their native title rights and interests. By this time, Pasminco was pushing ahead with plans to build the Century Mine with the support of the Queensland government. When the mining company tried to force through road and bridge works across the Gregory River, the Waanyi People, with the support of CLCAC, sought a Federal Court injunction to restrain Pasminco and Burke Shire Council from constructing a bridge across the river as part of the Gregory-Lawn Hill Road upgrade.

Gregory River

Led by the late Victor Jacob, the Waanyi People from the Bidunggu community were the registered native title claimants of the Gregory River native title claim and traditional owners of the area. The proposed bridge construction work would have involved the felling of culturally significant trees and the destruction  of white clay deposits used in ceremony.

The Bidunggu community sought the injunction on the grounds that Burke Shire Council had failed to consult with them about the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage. The application by the Waanyi People was successful and an injunction was granted, stopping work until the appropriate cultural clearances were undertaken and an alternative proposal agreed to. In granting the injunction, the Federal Court required the Burke Shire Council to undertake meaningful negotiations with the Waanyi People and CLCAC.

Queensland at this time was less than 2 weeks away from a  State election. The then Premier, Mr Rob Borbidge, attacked the decision and CLCAC, saying: “I’m asking the people of Queensland to give me the numbers on the 13th (the day of the elections) so that projects like Century aren’t held up by people like Murrandoo Yanner,” he said. ”I’ve had a gutful of Mr Yanner, I’ve had a gutful of Mabo and Wik and the land-rights industry,” he added. On 13 June 1998, Borbidge’s government was voted out of office.