Local indigenous woman Lois Cook is set to be evicted from her camp near Lennox Head within days after the NSW Supreme Court found that her claim to be the owner of the land had ‘no legal basis’.
In the latest chapter in the saga over Ms Cook’s presence on the land, Supreme Court judge Natalie Adams found last week that the Nyangbul elder was trespassing.
Justice Adams ordered that a writ of possession be executed in relation to the site on July 3, paving the way for Ms Cook’s camp to be removed by authorities is she continues to refuse to leave.
‘There is no legal basis for Ms Cook’s assertion that she is in fact the legal owner,’ Justice Adams said in a judgment delivered on June 22.
‘She does not rely upon any doctrine of adverse possession; she admits that she has only been squatting on the property for 23 months.
‘Nor does she suggest that any arrangement was ever made with Jali ALC [the local Aboriginal land council] such as to give rise to some expectation on her part that she would be permitted to reside on the land.’
Ms Cook has been engaged in a long-running dispute with the Jali Aboriginal Land Council over the camp she set up about two years ago at 146 Byron Bay Rd, Lennox Head.
She has stated that she has set up the Gagamai Ngangbal Suveran Free State on the site and is living there with a group of supporters.
According to the judgment, the Jali ALC asserts that it is they and not Ms Cook who are the rightful custodians.
They, along with Ballina Council, also say that the camp has insufficient washing and hygiene facilities, is in an Environmental Protection (Wetlands) Zone, is at risk of being caught in a bushfire, and has unauthorised electrical connections.
The land council also says that the absence of a proper drive entering and leaving the camp means that vehicles must pull directly out onto Byron Bay Road in a section where vehicles are travelling at 100km/h.
Ballina Council has sent letters to Jali ALC warning them that the ‘unauthorised camp’ must be removed from the site or they, as the legal entity responsible for the land, will be prosecuted.
Ms Cook argues that neither Jali ALC nor Ballina Council have the authority to order her removal from the land.
She says she is the true owner of the land and claims the right to occupy it in accordance with the traditional law and customs of the Nyangbul people, to be used and enjoyed in accordance with traditional customs and rights.
She says the bushland has been abandoned by Jali ALC for 30 years and asserts that the body proposes to sell it to developers.
Ms Cook also states that the proceedings are a continuation of a process of harassment to prevent her from carrying out her cultural responsibilities as a traditional owner and custodian of Nyangbul country.
However, Justice Adams did not accept the Nyangbul elder’s arguments.
‘Although Ms Cook has identified a number of issues which give rise to some concern as to how her rights as a senior law woman and custodian of Nyangbul country are to be exercised, no actual defence has been identified [to the Jali ALC’s claims],’ Justice Adams said.
‘…There is nothing before the Court to suggest, as was argued by Ms Cook, that there is any conspiracy between Ballina SC and Jali ALC to concoct the breaches of the various Acts and Regulations just to remove her from the property.
‘I am satisfied that Ms Cook has raised some heartfelt concerns as to the operation of ALR Act but unfortunately none of the material she relies upon gives rise to a defence to Jali ALC’s claim. As the matter currently stands, she is trespassing.’
Justice Adams ordered that the the writ of possession be executed on July 3.
She also ordered Ms Cook to pay Jali ALC’s legal costs, which are likely to be in the thousands of dollars.