The Yorta Yorta, also known as Jotijota,[a] are an Aboriginal Australian people who have traditionally inhabited the area surrounding the junction of the Goulburn and Murray Rivers in present-day north-eastern Victoria and southern New South Wales.
As was customary with many tribal names in the Murray basin – Wemba-Wemba, Latjilatji, Muthi Muthi, Nari-Nari and so on – the Yorta ethnonym is derived from reduplicating their word for "no" (yota/yoda).
The Yorta Yorta language may be a language isolate within the Pama-Nyungan language family, though it is often treated as a member of the Yotayotic branch of that family along with Yabula Yabula, which is not particularly close. It is a dialect continuum of closely related languages traditionally spoken on either side of the Murray River from west of Echuca to east of the Cobram/Tocumwal area, and south-east along the Goulburn River as far as the Mooroopna/Shepparton. It was a first language for many of these groups down to around 1960 but elements of the language are still transmitted in families by descendants to this day.
Tindale (1974) named only three:
Another source mentions "Dhulinyagan".
The numbers may well estimate the historic population, since evidence from oven mounds in the area suggested a higher population density in former times, and it is known that the area was ravaged by smallpox epidemics.
In modern times, the Yorta Yorta comprise a number of historically distinct tribes, as well as clans and family groups descending directly from the original Yorta Yorta. Tribes that now come under the general umbrella term of Yorta Yorta include the Bangerang and Kwatkwat. Clans groups represented include the Kailtheban, Wollithiga, Moira, Ulupna, Yalaba Yalaba, and Ngurai-illiam-wurrung.
1995 Native title claim
In a Native title claim submitted in 1995 by the Yorta Yorta people, it was determined by Justice Olney in 1998 that the "tide of history" had "washed away" any real acknowledgement of traditional laws and any real observance of traditional customs by the applicants. An appeal was made to the full bench of the Federal Court on the grounds that "the trial judge erroneously adopted a 'frozen in time' approach" and "failed to give sufficient recognition to the capacity of traditional laws and customs to adapt to changed circumstances". The Appeal was dismissed in a majority 2 to 1 decision. The case was taken on appeal to the High Court of Australia but also dismissed in a 5 to 2 majority ruling in December 2002.
In response to the failed native title claim, in May 2004 the Victorian State Government led by Premier Steve Bracks signed an historic co-operative management agreement with the Yorta Yorta people covering public land, rivers and lakes in north-central Victoria. The agreement gives the Yorta Yorta people a say in the management of traditional country including the Barmah State Park, Barmah State Forest, Kow Swamp and public land along the Murray and Goulburn rivers. Ultimate decision making responsibility was retained by the Environment Minister.
Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation
The Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation (YYNAC), established in 1999 and not to be confused with the former Yorta Yorta Local Aboriginal Land Council which took ownership of Cummeragunja Reserve in NSW in 1984, has its headquarters in Barmah and a branch office in Shepparton. YYNAC is governed by a board of seven directors, one of whom is an Elder’s representative, and a Council of Elders comprising 16 Yorta Yorta family group representatives. There is a CEO who manages the day-to-day operations, administration and personnel.
The Aborigines Advancement League (AAL) was established in the 1930s by Yorta Yorta activists such as William Cooper, Sir Douglas Nicholls, Marj Tucker, Geraldine Briggs and Shadrach James. It lodged a claim for the Barmah Forest in 1975 which was rejected by the Victorian Government.
The Yorta Yorta Tribal Council (YYTC), formally established in April 1983, but according to some accounts originally established in 1972 by Elizabeth Maud Hoffman, Margaret Wirrpanda and others, took over the work of the AAL in working for the Yorta Yorta people. Among the founders were It made another claim for the Barmah Forest in 1984 under the Cain government, which did not succeed.
The Yorta Yorta Tribal Council was superseded by the Yorta Yorta Clans Group (YYCG) in 1989, which broadened its scope and encompassed a wider geographic area of traditional Yorta Yorta land. YYCG was superseded by the YYNAC in 1999.
TOSA land settlement
In October 2010, the State entered into a Traditional Owner Land Management Agreement with the Yorta Yorta, which established the Yorta Yorta Traditional Owner Land Management Board to jointly manage Barmah National Park (a "TOSA" settlement, under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010).
The Yorta Yorta Traditional Owner Land Management Board is a unit of YYNAC. As recognised traditional owners of the land, a joint management plan is as of 2020[update] being agreed between the YYNAC and the State of Victoria. Parks Victoria, as designated manager of Barmah National Park, will have responsibility for implementing many of the plan’s strategies and actions, working in partnership with the YYNAC and other partners such as the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DWLWP).
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The track "Ngarra Burra Ferra" sung by indigenous artist Jessica Mauboy, from the 2012 hit film The Sapphires, is a song based on the traditional Aboriginal hymn "Bura Fera". The song is in the Yorta Yorta language and speaks of God's help in decimating Pharaoh's armies. The chorus, "Ngara burra ferra yumini yala yala", translates into English as "The Lord God drowned all Pharaoh's armies, hallelujah!" These lyrics are based on an ancient song in Jewish tradition known as the "Song of the Sea" from the Book of Exodus. Aboriginal communities of Victoria and southern New South Wales may be the only people in the world who still sing the piece (in Yorta Yorta).
- Wharparilla Flora Reserve, a small environmental reserve, the place where the Yorta Yorta first met European settlers
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In 1984, as a consequence of the operation of provisions of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 (NSW), an estate in fee simple in the former reserve land at Cummeragunja was vested in the Yorta Yorta Local Aboriginal Land Council.
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