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HomeVolume 27Royalties go to wrong people: bush town

Royalties go to wrong people: bush town


Bungling by the Central Land Council has deprived as many as 200 people in the Areyonga area (pictured) of oil and other resource royalties for decades.

This is claimed by Neil Bell, Member for MacDonnell in the NT Legislative Assembly from 1981 to 1997.

After a visit to the area this year, finding the issues unresolved, Mr Bell says in violation of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (ALRA) the CLC has neglected to consult with people in the area about access given to miners: “The Mereenie oil field is on land traditionally owned by people there and yet no royalties have been paid to them since 1985.”

CLC CEO Les Turner, asked to comment, did not address the specifics of the allegations.

He says: “The Central Land Council has regularly consulted with the community of Areyonga over many years.

“The Council is satisfied that monies are being distributed correctly under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act.”

An ownership controversy dates back to a meeting in Areyonga (Utju) in 1984. Mr Bell has a copy of the minutes and the Alice Springs News has sighted them.

It was agreed at that time that although many parents and grand parents were born and raised elsewhere in Pitjantjatjara / Western Desert country, and their parents may be Pitantjatjara, mostly in the Petermann Ranges and the Top End of SA, they themselves were being conceived and born in the Areyonga area west of Alice Springs.

This gives the locals land rights in that area, says Mr Bell.

They claim that royalties are being paid to the wrong people.

A fluent Pitantjatjara speaker, he drafted a letter in August 2015 to the CLC at the request of Areyonga people. It was signed by leaders in that community, Daphne Puntjina, Gordon Tiger and Leonard Kunari.

The text was in Pitantjatjara, followed by a translation into English.

The letter says in part that “some of the bosses at the Land Council [should] come out here … and having looked us in the eye to explain how those moneys from the leases, from the royalties, have been paid out.

“And along with you, you should bring those people who are currently receiving those moneys, so that they can’t hide and so that they can speak about the tjukurrpa here but maybe they will be unable to do so.”

Says Mr Bell: “I was shocked to be told that no reply has ever been received to this letter.

“The CLC has a multitude of hot and cold running lawyers and anthropologists on tap and money coming out of its ears. Yet they refuse to go out there.

“These issues need to be revisited. I feel a real obligation to have these issues ventilated.

In a letter to the News he said that three issues emerged relating to financial benefits: “Firstly, the Federal government had apparently paid out moneys to traditional owners for leases of Aboriginal land in many Aboriginal communities including Areyonga, associated with its 2007 Intervention.

“No money has been received by ngurraritja (traditional owners) at Areyonga.

“Secondly, there has been for many years an azurite mine to the east and south from Areyonga.

“In order to access the mine which is Mining Lease 29494 … it is necessary to drive through the community, past its sports field and airstrip,” says Mr Bell. 

“It is clear that the CLC has not carried out its statutory duty under section 42 of the ALRA to consult the Areyonga community, which is clearly a community envisaged by that provision.”


  1. Welcome back to The Centre, Neil.
    Bell has been away from Centralia for many years.
    And, Jon, his speciality has been in Native Title claims, a different kettle of land.
    He seems to have forgotten many of the things he once knew.
    Go to any community, or watering hole near a community, and you will hear stories of the right people (them) being done out of their rightful money by the nasty people at CLC.
    Disclosure; I worked at CLC for three years, in the late ’80s.
    CLC is a Commonwealth Statutory Authority, and as such is one of the most closely scrutinised and monitored Aboriginal organisations in the country.
    The claim that no reply has been received to a letter from seven years ago is tendentious.
    Peoples’ memories are notoriously bad, and/or selective.
    The filing systems of communities would be unreliable, or non-existent.
    I suspect that CLC documentation would support Mr Turner’s statement that many consultations with the people of Areyonga have taken place.
    The fact that the outcome was not to their liking is probably the reason for their complaint.

  2. Not quite, Charlie, but good to hear from you. You might wish to read the documents that supported Erwin’s article which demonstrate the basis for some key community members’ concern. Let me know.


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