Aboriginal Land Rights Essay

1564 words - 6 pages

Aboriginal Land Rights

Aboriginal Australians have always had an eternal bond with the land.
For the 50,000 years or more, they have occupied the continent; the
land provided not only the basic needs, but also the spiritual
beliefs. In the Dreaming, the forms of the land, mountains, rivers,
landscapes and animals took shape and the spirit of ancestors resided
in places that became sacred sites to the Aboriginal people. The land
to these people were their most precious commodity.

When white settlement began in Australia in 1788, the concept of terra
nullius {the land belonging to no-one} was adopted by the British.
This was assumed because the Aboriginals had not cultivated the land,
so it was uninhabited. However, the Mabo Case in 1992 changed this

The Mabo Case 1992

In May 1982, Eddie Mabo and four other Meriam people of the Murray
Islands in the Torres Strait area went to the High Court of Australia,
seeking confirmation of their traditional land rights. They claim that
Murray Island or Mer, and the surrounding islands and reefs had been
continuously inhabited by the Meriam people, but accepted it as part
of Queensland. However, they believe their native title rights still

This case was heard over ten years through the High Court and the
Queensland Supreme Court. On June 3 1992, the High Court ruled by a
majority of six to one that the claim that the lands of Australia were
not terra nullius and that the Meriam people were entitled to the land
of the Murray Islands.

The common belief that Australia was terra nullius was struck down and
that native titles overruled settlement. The judgment contained the
statement that the common law was unjust and did not respect
Aboriginals as equals before the law. It also found it was out of step
with international human rights and that Aboriginals had been
dispossessed of their land rights unlawfully.

Native Title Act 1993

After the Mabo case which recognised the existence of native title
rights, Land Councils lobbied the Federal Government to legislate to
protect any native title that had survived 200 years of colonisation.

The Native Title Act 1993 is part of the Commonwealth Government's
response to that historic High Court decision. The Native Title Act
came into operation on 1 January 1994

The Act does five things:

* It recognises and protects native title.

* It provides a regime to enable future dealings in native title
lands and imposes conditions on those dealings

* It provides for the validation of any past grants of land that may
otherwise have been invalid because of the existence of native

* It establishes a regime to ascertain where native title exists,
who holds it and what it is, and to determine compensation for

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