Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-operative is now the official landlord of its Forest Street property after the state government transferred the land title to the organisation.
The change is the first of 59 property titles and associated mortgages that are expected to be transferred by the state government to local Aboriginal organisations across Victoria in coming months.
Ownership of the building will allow BDAC to either develop the site for improved service delivery, or sell the property and move to another facility if deemed necessary.
Aboriginal affairs minister Natalie Hutchins, in announcing the title transfer on Wednesday, said it was part of the government’s plan to reach a treaty with the Aboriginal community, part of which will create an elected representative body for Aboriginal Victorians.
BDAC chief executive officer Raylene Harradine said the title transfer, which removed the state government-held mortgage on the property, gave the organisation a stronger future and ability to make better decisions on behalf of the 2000 Aboriginal community members it represented in the Bendigo region.
Aboriginal affairs minister Natalie Hutchins announces removal of state government-held mortgage of Forest St property occupied by Bendigo and District Aboriginal Cooperative, giving organisation greater control of its assets. pic.twitter.com/OWxpbkhA1n— Bendigo Advertiser (@BgoAddy) February 28, 2018
While coy on potential plans for the Forest Street site, Ms Harradine said the group was considering expanding the services it ran out of the property, namely spiritual and wellbeing programs.
Susan Rankin, from the Jaara Senior Women’s Land and Culture Council, addressed minister Hutchins and said: “We never gave up our land to be buying it [sic] back.”
“It’s time to wake up to the simple truth.
“You need to legitimise your own occupation (of Aboriginal land), then we might be able to move forward freely and equally.”
Minister Hutchins said she “absolutely recognised” many Aboriginal Victorians believe land was never ceded.
“But the reality is we have properties owned that have Aboriginal organisations run out of them and if we’re going to start to work towards genuine self-determination for our Aboriginal people the government needs to step up and give back those titles so those properties can be run by Aboriginal organisations,” she said.
The transfer differs from existing traditional land ownership agreements with the Dja Dja Wurrung, which focus on Crown land and access to waterways among others.
BDAC was the first organisation to receive the title transfer because it was the first organisation to apply, and state a business and development case to the state government.
BDAC has another less central facility at Prouses Road, North Bendigo, but neither Ms Harradine nor Ms Hutchins could confirm who held the mortgage or land title for that property.