It’s October, the week after the Voice to Parliament Referendum and Waanyi Garawa Gangalidda tribal leader Alec Doomadgee has set himself up on his mobile phone for our online interview in a coffee shop in downtown Toowoomba in western southeast Queensland. Home to the Jarowair people, this city holds the spirit of a long painful history of colonisation and atrocities of genocide and is now being graced by Alec, a man who brings optimism, love in his heart to all people and a healthy cheekiness, challenging racism, colonisation and issues impacting his people. He likes to get people thinking.
With his feet in many worlds, Alec Doomadgee has his law and culture and uses this as a sign of respect to take on the big guns and lead his community into self-governance while navigating the film and arts industry as a producer and actor across Australia.
With the sounds of the coffee shop in the background, we discussed his decision to vote No, his vision for treaties and accords and how his people used Indigenous Land Agreements to secure Native Title on their sacred Boodjamullla country after a thirty-year process. Alec says customary law is the way forward for First Nations people to self-govern, heal and speak for country and people.
Around ten years ago Alec produced a documentary called Zachs Ceremony, he says this film is an example of how his people’s law and culture still exists. He believes that going back to the old law will rebuild the foundation separate from the colony.
The Fight for Country
His Waanyi people of the southern Gulf of Carpentaria region recently took back the Boodjamulla National Park formerly known as Lawn Hill. He says that by using Native Title and Indigenous Land Use Agreements and the current mechanisms set up by the federal government, communities can take back their power and country and make it a success. Boodjamulla is his people’s creator spirit and rainbow serpent.
In 1994, 18 year old Alec Doomadgee walked on that park with his family and they locked the park down protesting on the site for two weeks. In 1996 they started an Aboriginal Lands Act court case for Native Title. He says it took twenty years to go through the white man’s system and the ALA with the final determination being handed down in 2016. This was Alec’s second year as chair of the Native Title Corporation. It took from 2016 to 2020 for the QLD state government to sit down and negotiate. With a supportive legal and anthropologist Alec used his people’s law and culture to prove they had the jurisdiction on their country and not the government.
At the end of the negotiations Alec said this is what worked for him. The final agreement included a clause of Treaties and that would be another discussion. The final agreement included the Waanyi people to be funded to run their country as their own business. This now provides opportunity for his community to succeed in self-governance and an opportunity to create their own income.
Our healing comes from within us, from our law, our culture, our ceremomy
Alec says the government should be asking First Nations for treaties and not the other way around. His message to communities is about self-empowerment and taking back culture and law as a way to navigate the system. An approach that is positive, grounding and healing.
Native Title determination hand back Boodjamulla National Park June 2023 Brisbane Parliment house. Lead by Waanyi Elder Mr Henry Alpin. Pictured with Quandamooka MP Leanne Enoch (QLD