Native Title

logoThe Native Title Act (1993) of Australia was written after the trial of Mabo where the High Court finally recognised that Australia was not terra nullus and that there was prior ownership of the land before European settlement with laws and customs already in place. This meant that aboriginal Australians could demand their land back legally.

Much has happened since then, and not all good. While a lot of  non- indigenous Australians support Native Title some seem to hinder the process, (and some of these profess to be supporters of Native Title) and therefore it must be asked why this is so? The Native Title Act (1993) does not allow freehold land (backyards) to be claimed yet some people seem to act as if it does, they also forget the history of this country and why Native Title was recognised.  Below is an example from the Turrbal peoples experience with the Native Title Act (1993).

It must be noted here that Native Title (International Law) and the Australian Native Title Act (1993) are not the same thing. Brennan J in the Mabo ((No. 2) (1992) 175 CLR 1, at 58 – 59) decision noted that “native title has its origin in and is given its content by the traditional laws acknowledged by and the traditional customs observed by the indigenous inhabitants of a territory. The nature and incidents of native title must be ascertained by reference to those laws and customs” His honour went on to note that “native title, though recognized by common law, is not an institution of common law…” ( For more information read ‘Native Title Process A Traditional Owners perspective’ by Ade Kukoyi in the Autumn edition of Yari)

Despite the millions of dollars channelled to government administrated departments and native title representative bodies the Turrbal people continue to fight against systematic oppression despite their status as the registered native title claimants of Brisbane a feat they have achieved with no financial support from any source. In fact they have encountered active resentment from within the politically aligned hierarchy of various indigenous groups and discriminatory practices from the Brisbane City Council attempting to suppress the voice of Brisbanes’ original inhabitants. Successfully the Turrbal Association continued to financially self perpetuate through to be legally recognised as the Traditional owners of Brisbane and are continuing the march toward the final decision granting them native title.

In 1998 the Turrbal people lodged their Native Title Claim over the Brisbane area. On Monday 17 January 2000 the Courier Mail (Brisbane newspaper) reported on the front cover “Aborigines win legal voice in city planning”. The court ruled that the Turrbal people had a prima facie case for their native title claim over Brisbane, and the Redland and Logan shires with right of consultation and negotiation. This is the first native title claim over a city, Australia’s city with the largest city council. The Turrbal’s recent success in legally registering their native title claim over Brisbane was a turning point in the nations’ history. The Turrbal claim could lead the way for a further 4000 Aborigines to claim areas in South East Queensland and for this and many other reasons government at Local, State and Federal levels are trying to suppress the Turrbal.

Some organisations have been trying to politicise the native title process while all the Turrbal wanted was to re-establish their presence, culture and be recognised as Brisbane’s original inhabitants – Never have the Turrbal people wanted anyones’ backyard! Backyard syndrome is the discussion of a media myth of indigenous land ownership and native title in Australia. It relies upon existing racial stereo types which exist in the framework of mass media working to reinforce the myth of land rights being about ‘my back yard’.

The draft Declaration for Reconciliation issued by the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (CAR) 2000 states that the CAR’s strategy is based on the “partnerships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, governments, the business sector and service organisations”. It further states that the ‘Reconciliation Council’ values the “unique status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the continuation of custodial laws and traditions”. On Sunday 4th June 2000, the ‘Reconciliation Council’ in conjunction with the Brisbane City Council excluded the Turrbal people, the registered native title claimants of Brisbane, from any role in Brisbane’s Walk For Reconciliation. This was a display of flagrant disrespect to the Turrbal people and the Turrbal traditional laws and customs.

On the 11th March 1998 the Courier Mail’s Jeff Sommerfeld and Jacob Greber, reported the “Clan claim over city fuels early poll talk” on the front page. Then state premier Mr. Rob Borbidge “attacked the claim as a provocative bid to grab the RNA Showgrounds, Breakfast Creek, public parks and gardens as well as roads”. While Lord Mayor Jim Soorley condemned both Mr. Borbidge and the Turrbal peoples “ambit claim” – “He said it was disgraceful for Mr. Borbidge to say these areas were under threat when it (the Turrbal Native Title claim) was an ambit claim with little validity”. During the mid to late 1990s, the Turrbal People experienced some difficulties in its dealings with the Brisbane City Council regarding the exercise of its legal and procedural rights under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth).

Looking to the future the ultimate challenge for non-indigenous Australians is to come to grips with the ramifications of the Mabo decision. We still have along way to go in this regard, particularly in view of the continued resentment and opposition towards the Turrbal people in Brisbane on many fronts within the establishment. The ability to harmonise our differences while at the same time celebrate our diversity will ultimately shape the character of Australia in the 21st century and beyond.

To find out more about the process here and elsewhere go to our links page where there are links to certain government sites regarding native title worldwide. These links are in no way promoted by us as important/useful/good or worthwhile visiting. They are provided as a possible source of information, and we hope that people think when gathering information on the Net or in life in general and that people look for the source of the material/information.