Australia: Court Grants Native Land Title

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Australia: Court Grants Native Land Title
By: Kellee Nolan, The Sydney Morning Herald
27 July 2011
 

After a 15-year legal saga, native title rights have been granted to two Aboriginal groups in a moving Federal Court session on Victoria`s coast.


The Gunditjmara and Eastern Maar peoples were on Wednesday granted native title ownership of Deen Maar Island, also known as Lady Julia Percy Island, and 4000 hectares of Crown land between Dunkeld and Yambuk on Victoria`s south-west coast.


At a special sitting of the Federal Court of Australia under a marquee at Yambuk, Justice Tony North granted the consent determination, sought by the Gunditjmara and Eastern Maar peoples and consented to through mediation by the Victorian government and other parties.


Handing down his decision, Justice North commended the goodwill and professionalism of all parties involved and said the day marked a special achievement for the Gunditjmara and Eastern Maar people.


"But their success is a shared victory," Justice North said.


"By doing justice to the Gunditjmara and Eastern Maar people, the state, the commonwealth and the other respondents have taken a step to right past wrongs and lay a basis for reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians."


The decision ends a 15-year legal saga over the land.


It had originally been part of a 1996 native title application by the Gunditjmara people for about 137,000 hectares of land.


But 4000 hectares were set aside from that application in 2007, to include the Eastern Maar people in the claim.


In 2007 Justice North granted native title rights to the Gunditjmara people over the 133,000 hectares of Crown land from the original application in a special on-country sitting at Mt Eccles.


After being at both determinations, Gunditjmara spokesman Damien Bell said Wednesday`s Federal Court sitting took place under a marquee, with possum skins draped over the court bench and traditional smoking ceremonies to welcome about 200 people.


"It was very moving and very emotional and then when the time came for the judge to deliver the orders ... he also handed copies of the orders to the elders of the Gunditjmara and Eastern Maar peoples," Mr Bell told AAP.


"It was very positive and very moving to end the Federal Court process after 15 years."


Eastern Maar spokesman Geoff Clark said it was a landmark occasion for Aboriginal people to be recognised as the traditional owners of the land.


"It`s a very proud day," he said.


Victorian Attorney General Robert Clark attended and congratulated all parties on what is Victoria`s fourth native title determination, saying it recognised "the deep spiritual and historical connection" of the traditional owners to the land.


He said the native title rights were nonexclusive, noncommercial and would co-exist with the interests of others using the area.


Native title owners have the right to access, remain on, camp on, use, enjoy, take resources from and protect places and areas of importance within the lands and waters covered.

Original article: http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-national/native-title-decision-given-on-vic-coast-20110727-1hzwf.html

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