As native title over her ancestral land is formally handed to her people, north Queenslander Elizabeth Santo-Dodds looks to the heavens.
“The fight was all for them,” the 43-year-old traditional owner says, referring to relatives who began the battle for recognition two decades ago but have since died.
“That’s who I’m thinking about today; those who couldn’t be here and always stood proud and never gave up.”
Native title over 20,000 square kilometres of land near Charters Towers, inland from Townsville, was officially handed to the Gudjala people on Tuesday.
Ms Santo-Dodds said the Federal Court determination brings closure to those who have fought for the right to claim the land as their own.
“We always knew who we were and where we came from and that this is our country,” she told AAP following celebrations with relatives on Tuesday.
“It’s about peace of mind that people can’t question our authority or authenticity over this land.”
Native title will allow the Gudjala people to enter into formal negotiations with landowners over future land use.
It also gives them greater access to the land to hunt, fish, camp and carry out ceremonies and will mean they have more say over how the land is protected.
Ms Santo-Dodds said native title isn’t about financial gain but a chance to right wrongs and acknowledge traditional owners who are spiritually connected to the land.
“Just like many places in Australia this land doesn’t have a very good history and we will never forget that,” she said.
“All we wanted was to be known as the people from this area.
“It’s been a long time coming and today finally we’ve got here.”