Australia: Aborigines given ownership of Perth by judge

Australia: Aborigines given ownership of Perth by judge

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John Ahni Schertow
September 21, 2006
 

By Kathy Marks in Sydney. Published: 21 September 2006

Aborigines have been declared the traditional owners of Perth and given the right to hunt and fish in the area, in the first successful claim by indigenous people to an Australian state capital.

The landmark ruling by the Federal Court astonished Aboriginal groups, with one community leader, Noel Pearson, welcoming the “absolutely extraordinary” decision. The judgment opens the way for similar claims over cities such as Sydney and Melbourne.

However, the state government of Western Australia said it would appeal, and it may be joined by the federal government. The Prime Minister, John Howard, said his initial reaction was “one of considerable concern”.

The judge, Justice Murray Wilcox, granted the Nyoongar people “native title” over more than 6,000 sq km of land, including Perth and its surrounds. That means they can use it for traditional activities such as hunting, camping and fishing, as well as looking after sacred sites and generally caring for the land.

The judgment will not affect homes or businesses, as the Australian courts have ruled that native title does not apply to land owned on a freehold or long-lease basis. Mr Justice Wilcox cautioned that it was “neither the pot of gold for the indigenous claimants nor the disaster for the remainder of the community that is sometimes painted”.

Native title claims in the past have prompted scare campaigns by mining and agricultural companies. But the judge said that his decision would have no impact on “people’s backyards”.

For native title, Aborigines must prove a continuing and unbroken link with the land that they owned until British colonists arrived. That was thought to be an almost impossible task in densely settled metropolitan areas.

In 2002 the High Court, which is superior to the federal courts, rejected a claim by the Yorta Yorta people over a heavily populated swath of south-eastern Australia. Mr Pearson said the latest ruling restored indigenous rights in relation to cities and southern regions.

Fred Chaney, the deputy chairman of the National Native Title Tribunal, said the Nyoongar people had been “subjected to pretty incredible interference and dislocation … they’ve been shifted around, shunted around, their families have been broken up”.

He added: “The extraordinary thing is that they’ve been able to demonstrate to the judge that there is still continuing Nyoongar law and culture, which is understood, which still binds them to the country, and which regulates their relationships. So it’s an amazing example of cultural survival under extremely adverse circumstances.”

One conservative politician in Western Australia warned of dire consequences, claiming that the public could be charged a fee to use parks and waterways. Alan Eggleston, a state Liberal senator, said: “This really could have quite profound and significant implications, and change our way of life.”

Aboriginal Australian groups dismissed his claims as baseless “scaremongering”. Glen Kelly, head of the South West Aboriginal Land Council, told ABC radio that the Nyoongar would seek a say in the management of parkland and state forests, but that “in general life will go on as it currently is”.

Mr Justice Wilcox ruled that the Nyoongar are the traditional owners of the entire area to which they claim native title: 200,000 sq km of south-western Australia. But he has yet to decide whether to grant native title to land outside the Perth metropolitan district.

The state government said it would appeal as the judgment contradicted the High Court’s Yorta Yorta ruling, which decided that native title had been “washed away by the tide of history”.

Mr Howard said: “Many people will regard it as somewhat incongruous – there could still be some residual native title claim in a major settled metropolitan area.”

Aborigines have been declared the traditional owners of Perth and given the right to hunt and fish in the area, in the first successful claim by indigenous people to an Australian state capital.

The landmark ruling by the Federal Court astonished Aboriginal groups, with one community leader, Noel Pearson, welcoming the “absolutely extraordinary” decision. The judgment opens the way for similar claims over cities such as Sydney and Melbourne.

However, the state government of Western Australia said it would appeal, and it may be joined by the federal government. The Prime Minister, John Howard, said his initial reaction was “one of considerable concern”.

The judge, Justice Murray Wilcox, granted the Nyoongar people “native title” over more than 6,000 sq km of land, including Perth and its surrounds. That means they can use it for traditional activities such as hunting, camping and fishing, as well as looking after sacred sites and generally caring for the land.

The judgment will not affect homes or businesses, as the Australian courts have ruled that native title does not apply to land owned on a freehold or long-lease basis. Mr Justice Wilcox cautioned that it was “neither the pot of gold for the indigenous claimants nor the disaster for the remainder of the community that is sometimes painted”.

Native title claims in the past have prompted scare campaigns by mining and agricultural companies. But the judge said that his decision would have no impact on “people’s backyards”.

For native title, Aborigines must prove a continuing and unbroken link with the land that they owned until British colonists arrived. That was thought to be an almost impossible task in densely settled metropolitan areas.

In 2002 the High Court, which is superior to the federal courts, rejected a claim by the Yorta Yorta people over a heavily populated swath of south-eastern Australia. Mr Pearson said the latest ruling restored indigenous rights in relation to cities and southern regions.

Fred Chaney, the deputy chairman of the National Native Title Tribunal, said the Nyoongar people had been “subjected to pretty incredible interference and dislocation … they’ve been shifted around, shunted around, their families have been broken up”.

He added: “The extraordinary thing is that they’ve been able to demonstrate to the judge that there is still continuing Nyoongar law and culture, which is understood, which still binds them to the country, and which regulates their relationships. So it’s an amazing example of cultural survival under extremely adverse circumstances.”

One conservative politician in Western Australia warned of dire consequences, claiming that the public could be charged a fee to use parks and waterways. Alan Eggleston, a state Liberal senator, said: “This really could have quite profound and significant implications, and change our way of life.”

Aboriginal Australian groups dismissed his claims as baseless “scaremongering”. Glen Kelly, head of the South West Aboriginal Land Council, told ABC radio that the Nyoongar would seek a say in the management of parkland and state forests, but that “in general life will go on as it currently is”.

Mr Justice Wilcox ruled that the Nyoongar are the traditional owners of the entire area to which they claim native title: 200,000 sq km of south-western Australia. But he has yet to decide whether to grant native title to land outside the Perth metropolitan district.

The state government said it would appeal as the judgment contradicted the High Court’s Yorta Yorta ruling, which decided that native title had been “washed away by the tide of history”.

Mr Howard said: “Many people will regard it as somewhat incongruous – there could still be some residual native title claim in a major settled metropolitan area.”

(source)

“GOOD MOON RISING” – INDIGENOUS TITLE TO WESTERN AUSTRALIA AFFIRMED – BYE BYE COLONIALISM!

MNN. Sep. 21, 2006. It’s a landmark case. The Noongar Aborigine people of Australia were affirmed as holding title to a substantial part of Western Australia, including the city of Perth. In the case of Bennell v. State of Western Australia (2006) FCA 1243, the Noongar people proved that their community continues to exist and that they are still part of the land. They continue to observe the community’s traditional laws and customs, including their relationship to their land.

The Noongar have a claim under their own laws and customs as a result of their occupation of the land before the colonial visitors arrived on the scene. This community continues to exist today. They are still guided by the spirits of their ancestors. They continue to acknowledge their laws and customs even though there have been some alternations and interference by their white visitors. In other words, the rights are possessed under traditional laws that are acknowledged and observed which maintains their connection to their lands and waters.

Those rights are recognized by common law in Australia, Canada, the United States and other commonwealth countries, including those in Africa. The major point of the decision is that the native people are identified by their own laws, not by colonial laws. Even though they have been prevented from exercising their rights for a period of time by the colonists, they still have title.

It is a persuasive decision in terms of setting a precedent for a new stage in the relationships between Indigenous people worldwide and the colonial states that have imposed themselves on our lands.

We think that the Department of Indian Affairs in Canada has become hysterical over this reaffirmation of our rights to our lands and resources. They are the only ones we can think who might be responsible for planting stories trying to make the Canadian public think that Indigenous people are trying to do them in. Last Monday there was an explosion on the 17th floor of the “Tower of Power” known as Indian Affairs at 10 Wellington Street in Hull Quebec. It’s right across the Ottawa River from the Parliament Buildings that are squatting on Algonquin land. This is the second time that the police have been called in to investigate “vandalism”.

I was home on Monday. This reminds me of the time I worked on the 17th floor until I was fired during the Mohawk Oka Crisis of 1990. In 1988 there was a Canadian soldier working on the 14th floor. Yep. The Canadian military was right there in the middle of Indian Affairs. One day the officer in charge came to see me. He wanted to talk about my opposition to the claims that Nelson Small Legs Junior had committed suicide. He died suddenly two days after testifying at the hearing against the McKenzie Valley Pipeline. I told him I wanted an investigation. He came back a month or two later. He more or less said that I was right. It was not a suicide, as his father had claimed to me. But the RCMP was not going to change the report.

He then suddenly decided to show me something extraordinary. He took me down to the 14th floor to the western side of the building which was all painted black. There was a cutout of a door with a lock. He took out a key, opened the door and invited me inside.

It was a large room. The windows were all covered with thick black drapes. In the middle was a large round table covered by a green felt cloth. He pulled off the cloth and revealed a map of Canada. On the map were small yellow, red or green flags on each Indigenous community in Canada. I noticed that the Mohawk communities and a few in Northern British Columbia and the Northwest Territories had red flags. Most had green. Were they considered to be “pushovers” who gave colonialism the green light? Were the red flags describing those stalwart defenders of Indigenous rights? Red meant that these communities had to be stopped in their tracts. I asked him what this was all about. He said it was in case of “emergencies”. I asked, “Like what?” He said like fires, floods and other catastrophies (like martial law?)

At the left side of the door there was a room full of computers. I wondered what kinds of information were being put into them. He said, “All kinds of information” was being collected. But he didn’t go further. He was in charge. In others words, this was the “war room” being run by the Canadian military in the Department of Indian Affairs. It’s obvious they never forgot that Indian Affairs began as a branch of the British military back in the days when they were plotting the “conquest” of the French in North America and dreaming that they could suck the Indians into doing all their dirty work for them. They still haven’t learned that we just don’t like “trespassers”.

Later, after the Oka Crisis, I was in the hotel adjacent to Indian Affairs. That night I looked up at the building outside my window and counted up 14 floors. Sure enough! The black curtains were still on the windows. The imperial menace was still lurking inside.

What documents is Indian Affairs trying to get rid of by setting off explosions in the building? Have they gotten caught up in the “Fight Club” mentality that’s inspiring teenagers to fake phony fights and put them on the internet. Are they giving themselves black eyes and trying to blame it on us? They expect the public to believe that we’re doing it to them. They’re trying to justify their own existence.

We’ve been asking them to produce their documents on how they got control over us, our lands and resources. We’ve been telling them all along that they just could not come here, land on our shores, rob us of everything we have, and we wouldn’t complain about it! The time has come for their heirs to face up to this monumental fraud and hoax. We’re just not buying it and they can’t make us. As Floyd Westerman sang, “We just ain’t your Indians anymore!” as if we ever were! Canada, you have no choice but to come to terms with this colonial operation called “plunder and pillage”. You helped yourselves to everything and killed 99% of us off in the process.

Well, Canada, it looks like St. Nick and the Easter Bunny have left the building. You’ll just have to follow them out. And please take with you your bag of lies and genocidal policies. We don’t want any left over explosive caps or land mines. Oh! On your way out, clean up after yourselves. Leave things in the condition you found them.

see: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/federal_ct/2006/1243.html

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