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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Australian Aboriginal Group Wins Land Claim

Thanks to Niti Zinzuwadia, one of my property theory students, for pointing me to this interesting article.  An excerpt:

A federal court judge has given a tribe of Aborigines a limited land title claim over the major Australian city of Perth.

It was the first such ruling that Aborigines, the indigenous people who lived in Australia before white settlers arrived, were the traditional owners of an urban area. The potentially precedent-setting decision could apply to other large cities.

The ruling determined that the Noongar people were the traditional owners of a 2,300-square-mile area of Western Australia state that includes the state capital of Perth, a city of 1.7 million people.

But Tuesday's ruling by Judge Murray Wilcox only grants Aborigines limited rights to the land, and indigenous people say the issue is about recognition of their rights, not moving homeowners out.

The ruling means the Noongar people can now exercise rights such as hunting and fishing on land where their native title — a claim on land Aborigines held before settlers arrived — has not been usurped by freehold titles, those where the government has passed all interest in the land to the owner, or leasehold titles, where a person leases property from the owner.

Wilcox said the outcome was "neither the pot of gold for the indigenous claimants nor the disaster for the remainder of the community that is sometimes painted."

Homeowners and businesses, for instance, normally hold freehold titles and will therefore not be affected by the ruling, officials said. But unallocated land, such as national parks and reserves, may be.

The decision came as shock to most observers since previous such claims over metropolitan areas have failed because under Australian law a freehold title overrides a native title.

In part to win their case, the Noongar people had to prove they had maintained their culture and customs since European settlement in 1829.

The Western Australia state government said it would appeal the ruling to a higher court — a move welcomed by Prime Minister John Howard's government.

Howard said Wednesday the ruling was "of some considerable concern."

Ben Barros

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