First native title ruling in decade returns Victorian land to traditional owners

The first native title determination in Victoria in more than a decade has returned a large swathe of land covering much of south-western Victoria to Aboriginal traditional owners.

The Federal Court formally recognised the native title rights at a hearing in Warrnambool on Tuesday.

Victorian Minister for Treaty and First Peoples Gabrielle Williams. Credit:Simon Schluter

The area covered by the decision runs from Ararat in the north, to Warrnambool and Port Fairy in the south-west and Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road to the east. It also sits over Dunkeld, Mortlake, Terang, Camperdown, Port Cambell, the Otways and Apollo Bay.

Members of the Eastern Maar community were joined by Victoria’s Minister for Treaty and First Peoples Gabrielle Williams on Tuesday for the hearing at Logans Beach.

The consent determination recognises the Eastern Maar people’s rights regarding access, ownership and management of public land, as well as their rights regarding the use and development of the land and its natural resources.

The ruling includes the right to camp, hunt, fish, collect plants, protect sites of cultural significance and conduct ceremonies. It also provides the opportunity for economic development as Victoria continues to progress towards a statewide treaty with First Peoples.

The court orders recognising the native title are made by agreement with the State of Victoria, the Commonwealth of Australia and 156 interest groups that responded to the court application. The orders recognise native title to a part of traditional Eastern Maar Country, with further legal recognition of extended territory to follow during the year.

The claim was first filed in the Federal Court in December 2012. Tuesday’s decision provides formal recognition of the land rights of the Maar, Gunditjmara, Tjap Wurrung, Peek Whurrung, Keeray Wooroong (Kirrae Whurrung), Kuurn Kopan Noot, Yarro Waetch (Tooram Tribe), Djargurd Wurrung, Gulidjan and Gadubanud First Peoples.

Eastern Maar chief executive officer Marcus Clarke said the determination recognised laws and customs observed by generations of First Peoples.

”Our peoples have fought hard for their country,” he said. “We have fought to substantially maintain and practice our traditional laws and customs, and importantly pass on cultural and spiritual knowledge throughout our family groups from generation to generation.

“I am extremely proud of our communities’ efforts in working together and our collective grit and determination to achieve native title recognition. It’s an important step in our shared history.”

More to come

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