Government hands land to Yorta Yorta

By Daneka Hill

A RESTRICTIVE mortgage placed on an Indigenous corporation’s land nearly 30 years ago has finally been lifted.

The first mortgage on the Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation’s (YYNAC) head office in Barmah was installed by the government in the early 1990s. 

While the government mortgage gave them land to grow on, it also stopped them from being able to use their own property as capital.

It also meant the land was in the name of the Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Minister, and not the YYNAC.

The state government didn’t allow Indigenous groups to appeal their first mortgages until 2017.

The YYNAC successfully had the first mortgage removed from their Barmah office, after an exhaustive 18-months filled with financial stability and sound governance checks.

YYNAC senior projects manager Damian Morgan-Bulled said when the first mortgage was lifted the YYNAC regained their property “unencumbered”.

“It absolutely means a lot to have our property returned to us with no mortgage attached, it was a fairly long process that had taken a lot of work by our Elders, Board and Staff,” Mr Morgan-Bulled said.

“The first mortgage stopped us from selling the property or leveraging anything against it, not that we would do that anyway.

“When we started the application process to have the mortgage removed the building on the site was in bad shape.”

In fact, the YYNAC hadn’t operated out of the Barmah office since 2012 due to a white ant infestation in the front part of the building.

For the last eight years the YYNAC has been leasing offices in Shepparton, and in that time they’ve managed to save and raise enough money to not only de-ant the property, but extend it.

The extension will include a specially designed archive space to hold YYNAC’s collection of important martial and artefacts returned to Yorta Yorta.

“Once the renovations are done we don’t have to lease the Shepparton property anymore, we don’t have to pay rent to anyone else, it means we are able to move back home again,” Mr Morgan-Bulled said.

“It is the first thing you see when you drive off the bridge and it provides a space for our Elders and community members to interact and we are quite visible there, where as in Shepparton we are tucked away on the main street, everyone drives past everyday but they don’t know we are there.

“It’s turned into a $2 million-dollar property.”

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Gavin Jennings said the first mortgage program was an example of how State Government helped Aboriginal groups build their enterprises in the past.

“Decisions affecting Aboriginal Victorians should be driven by Aboriginal Victorians – that’s why we’re removing these first mortgages,” Mr Jennings said.

When the program started there were 59 properties with a first properties, now there are just 22.