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I would first like to pay my respects to the traditional owners of this land, the Gunditjmara people, and to acknowledge the elders who are here today. It is a great privilege to be here to hand over the deeds to Lake Condah and the cemetery, to the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation. For me, being invited to come to your country is very special and very humbling.
For thousands of years the livelihood of the Gunditjmara people has come from the lake and this land. Fishing for eels for food and trade – over time creating a settled society with villages of stone huts. One of Australia's earliest aquaculture ventures. And one which has grown and expanded. Your enterprise today includes taking visitors on heritage tours, and the development of important water restoration and sustainability projects. The Lake Condah Sustainable Development Project will re-flood the lake – restoring the original wetland ecology and a constant water supply. And each year the number of visitors rises – ten thousand of them now, most of them from outside Victoria. Families, hikers, archaeologists and environmentalists who come here to share your heritage and culture. Recognising that Aboriginal culture is the oldest continuing culture in human history.
Today's handover also acknowledges the strong attachment of the Gunditjmara people to the mission which operated here from the 1860s until it closed in 1919. Many of your ancestors are buried in the cemetery which you continue to look after. Now with Timbercorp agreeing to transfer almost eight hectares of land, the cemetery boundary can be extended to include many unmarked graves. The land I am handing back to you today was originally granted to the old Kerrup-Jmara Elders Corporation in 1987 by the Hawke Labor Government. By transferring the title to Gunditj Mirring, your people can continue to live and work on land that is your own.
Being here today I am reminded of what the Prime Minister said when he said sorry to Indigenous Australians earlier this year. He said it was time to deal with unfinished business. Time to remove a great stain from the nation's soul. And time to open a new chapter in the history of this great land. Handing back this land is about opening this new chapter – building new understanding between the first Australians and those of us who came later.
Today as I look around I see the commitment of a strong and self-reliant community. Which is working to preserve a remarkable culture at the same time confidently meeting the challenges of the future. It is a great honour and it makes me very happy to be able to present the Gunditjmara people with this title and officially return this country to your care.
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