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Face-off over Facing Island native title claim

An aerial view of Facing Island, Gladstone.
An aerial view of Facing Island, Gladstone. Brenda Strong

RESIDENTS of Facing Island are opposing a native title claim for unallocated land on the island, that they say will cut off access roads, and affect the graves of the community's first settlers.

But a local indigenous leader has hit back, saying aboriginal burial sites on the island date back hundreds of years.

Queensland's Department of Natural Resources and Mines contacted residents about a proposed native title land transfer in February.

Facing Island Rural Fire Brigade secretary Frank Daly said the claim affected about 30 hectares of land, and the area was crucial for residents of the Gatcombe Heads island township.

"It is a somewhat emotive issue as residents have had a very strong connection with the particular land for many years," he said.

"But it is important to understand there is a process which (the Department) must follow," he said.

In a letter to the department, the brigade said the proposed transfer "would be crushing to the community of Gatcombe Heads".

"Of course everybody's got an objection to it," Mr Daly said.

"There's a lot of heritage in the area, there are possibly seven graves on the land altogether, plus if we lost access to that land it would cut off access to our houses."

About 30 people are permanent residents of Facing Island, with more than 1000 regularly visiting family homes there.

Gooreng Gooreng tribe leader Richard Johnson, who is also a native title applicant for Port Curtis Coral Coast, said there should be room for co-existence on Facing Island.

Speaking as a community representative, he said aboriginal burial places should also be considered.

"There's layers of heritage, isn't there - the shell middens (sites used by former indigenous communities) on the island, they're known to contain human remains, and they've been there for hundreds and hundreds of years," Mr Johnson said.

"Like people worried about European burial, we're also worried about our people."

Mr Johnson's tribe, along with the Baillai and Gurang tribes, all have native title claims on Facing Island.

He called on residents to consider to look for how a shared situation could work.

"It's always a sad thing that people look for the worst happening," he said.

"Early in the piece, politicians were talking about native title taking people's backyards - here we are 20 years late, and that's proved to be a lie."

"Even squatters still have rights, we recognise that. I don't think wholesale lines should be drawn on maps, it's more about negotiation."

"In the end, commonsense will prevail."

Gladstone Regional Council mayor Gail Sellers said there are also claims on unallocated land on Chinaman Island and South Trees Inlet.

The GRC has invited a Department spokesman to address council about the proposed transfer, ahead of a submission deadline on May 17.

"I think these families have been there for a long time, and they have a true feeling for the area," Cr Sellers said.

She said no indigenous groups had approached council about the proposal.

Topics:  aboriginal burial sites, department of natural resources and mines, facing island, gladstone regional council, gooreng gooreng, native title claims



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