Leeton and District Local Aboriginal Land Council – History

Leeton is located in the country of the Wiradjuri nation, and many members of our community are Wiradjuri people.  Some of our people came originally from Narrandera and Darlington Point.  Our community also embraces many people who are descended from other language groups: Yota Yota people from the area closer to the Murray River; Ngiyampaa and Paakantji people from further north and west in NSW, and people descended from a number of other groups.  People came from all over, drawn by the opportunities to work and freedom from Aborigines Welfare Board officials.

During the late 1800’s, and after the largely successful efforts of Wiradjuri warriors to drive settlers from the Leeton – Narrandera area in the period 1838 to 1841, a large number of our people, although not all, were forcibly moved from our lands to Aboriginal Reserves and Mission Stations such as at Warangesda at Darlington Point, and Euabalong and elsewhere in NSW.  During this period, because of the suppression of traditional practices including the speaking of language by Mission managers, knowledge of our customs and ways was rapidly eroded.  The closure of these Reserves and Missions in the thirty year period to the mid 1950's saw our heritage further diminished as our people were dispersed across the State in a series of Government-inspired moves although a few of our people did return to the Koonadan area to continue the traditional ways to the extent possible, including living off the land, until pastoral and quarrying activities removed the native bush and destroyed the natural habitat for wildlife. The significance of Koonadan is described in §12.2.

In the mid-1900’s, work was plentiful and many Aboriginal people were drawn to Leeton with the prospect of a better life, certainly less oppressive than existed on the missions and reserves.  Employment at the canneries was readily available and workers set up home at Wattle Hill nearby.  By 1950, the settlement at Wattle Hill, which accommodated Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, had grown on Crown Land administered by the Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission to a large and dynamic community.  Opposition to the increased scale of camping arose to the point that the AWB disbanded the settlement and our people were dispersed throughout Leeton.  Homes were burnt or bulldozed.  The site was co-incidentally valuable building land which, Leeton Shire Council considered, if subdivided for development by the NSW Housing Commission and private interests would ease the shortage of homes in the area required for business employees relocated to drive the region’s growing economy.  Access to the Wattle Hill site also would conveniently overcome a planning predicament being encountered in 1965-1966 by the Shire Council in not being able to gain access to other potential sites without a protracted delay until a new planning scheme came into effect.  Council were very keen for Wattle Hill to become a showpiece residential development.

After the Aboriginal Land Rights Act came into operation in 1983, the Land Council was incorporated with the objective, in part, of re-establishing connection to and ownership of the Country taken from us.  Membership at the time numbered about forty from which group was drawn the first Executive of Lionel Higgins (Chairman), Karen Ingram (Secretary), and Dorothy Ingram (Treasurer).  Arthur Watts and Dennis Ingram were elected as the first representatives to the Regional Council.