Laying the foundations: recognition of Native Title rights to the sea

On 23 March 2004 Justice Cooper of the Federal Court delivered his judgment in the Wellesley Sea Claim. This was the first and only native title case run to trial by CLCAC and involved an application by the Lardil, Yangkaal, Gangalidda and Kaiadilt Peoples. The claim was the first fully contested native title claim in Queensland since Mabo and only the second native title claim in Australia relating solely to the sea.

The claim ran for eight years before it was finally determined following a lengthy trial on Mornington Island. The Court recognized that non-exclusive native title rights and interests are held by the Lardil, Yangkaal, Kaiadilt and Gangalidda Peoples over the seas surrounding the Wellesley Islands and over part of the Albert River.

Many people gave evidence in support of the claim, including a number of important and respected elders who are no longer with us. This case served to lay the foundation for future native title claims in CLCAC’s region, providing a legal precedent for the recognition of the Lardil, Yangkaal, Gangalidda and Kaiadilt Peoples as native title holders.


CLCAC wishes to acknowledge and celebrate the commitment and hard work of the following people involved in the Wellesley Sea Claim:

  • Nelson Gavenor
  • Andrew Marmies
  • Roger Kelly
  • Billy Westmoreland
  • Kenneth Jacob
  • Wadjularbinna
  • June Gilbert
  • Valerie Douglas
  • Big Jake
  • Lindsay Roughsey
  • Pluto Bentinck
  • Pat Gabori
  • Douglas Burke
  • Bill Kurubaba
  • April Peters
  • Michael Booth
  • Heather Toby
  • Joseph Watt
  • Allan Ned
  • Clara Foster
  • Dell Williams
  • William Sewter
  • Amy Loogatha
  • Netta Loogatha
  • Olive Loogatha
  • Delma Loogatha
  • Ian James
  • Hugh Ben
  • Melville Escott
  • Ethel Thomas
  • Cyril Moon
  • Paul Peters
  • Clarence Walden
  • John William
  • Karen Chong
  • Reggie Robertson
  • Clayton Paul
  • Murrandoo Yanner
  • Roxanne Thomas
  • Clara Reid
  • Dawn Naranatjil
  • Paula Paul
  • Vernon Kelly
  • Robyrta Felton
  • Wayne William
  • Darryl Williams
  • Carl Evans
  • Aelan Thompson
  • Murray Walden Snr
  • Thomas Wilson
  • Sidney Wilson
  • Rodney Naranatjil
  • Alma Moon
  • Valmae Yarak

' ... In our belief, we’re born with the human spirit inside of us that connects with the spirit in creation,  so we’re connected all the time, and spirit you can’t see, and it is not written law, but we know that that law is there, and I want to also say, while we’re on this subject, that spirit is - it could be in the Dreamtime; it is present today, and is a part of us for the future, from the cradle to the grave, so it doesn’t lose its value or the spirit doesn’t lose its power and connectedness with creation and people. Never. I mean, it is as   strong today as it was in the Dreamtime.

Wadjularbinna, Gangalidda elder, oral evidence given at the Wellesley Sea Claim hearing, Gununa, 2004.