AS the Federal Court handed down the Darumbal People Native Title Consent determination yesterday, the weight of the decision was clear in Nyoka Hatfield's face.
Fighting back tears, the Rockhampton born and bred Darumbul woman said the recognition was "an end and a beginning" for her people.
"It's the beginning and now we will still go about our business with the recognition from a local community, from the wider community, that this is Darumbul country," Nyoka said.
"You know we have always known who we are, we don't need a piece of paper to prove that...we have always known who we are, but now other people will know too."
As well as their native title rights, the decision recognises their non-exclusive native title rights to access, hunt, fish and gather, conduct ceremonies and teach on the remainder of these lands.
As a Federal Court Judge handed down the decision during proceedings at the Dreamtime Cultural Centre, waves of tears, cheers and emotional embraces flooded the marquee - hosting more than 100 people, including Member for Keppel Brittany Lauga and Rockhampton Mayor Margaret Strelow.
Nyoka said many loved ones had been lost throughout the 23-year fight to yesterday's decision - which legally recognised them as the traditional owners of 2500 square kilometres of land in and around Rockhampton, Yeppoon and Marlborough.
As Nyoka celebrated, she was torn between tears of joy and sorrow; for each of the loved ones lost over the past two decades, which weighed heavy on her heart and thoughts.
"It's a happy day and it's a sad day... we have lost many loved ones, we have lost mothers, we have lost fathers, we have lost sons, we have lost daughters and that's why it's a sad day.
"But it's a happy day because we have reached the end of what we have started out doing... what our elders began," she said.
As she looked to the future of her family - five generations of whom have lived on Darumbal land since her great-grandfather was first taken from country in the 1930s/40s - Nyoka was hopeful for future generations.
"One of the first white settlers came here about 1858, so today it's 2016, so it's taken like 158 years for us to get our land back - so a long time," she said.
"And then that 23 years has been a personal journey for many of the individual families and people.
"It's been a hard journey, it's affected many of the families, their lives in different ways, but today we have an outcome, so it's a finish of that 23-year-old journey, a beginning of a new journey for our younger people and they will have more opportunities than we had, which is wonderful.
"And we will make sure they make the best of those opportunities while still carrying on our traditional culture and our traditional ways."