WA's Martu People achieve native title recognition in Western Desert 


The Martu People of Western Australia will today be recognised as the native title holders of a 136,000 square kilometre area of the Western Desert - the largest native title determination to be made in Australia to date.

Today at Parnngurr Community, approximately 1000km north-east of Perth at the base of Rudall River National Park, Justice Robert French of the Federal Court of Australia is scheduled to make orders determining that native title exists in favour of the Martu People over areas of unallocated Crown land. The determination will also acknowledge the native title of the Ngurrara People who share interests with the Martu over a 5,652 sq km area around the Percival Lakes region.

As the first native title determination since the High Court handed down its judgment in Western Australia v Ward on 8 August 2002, several sections of the claimed area have been excluded to take account of the Court's decision.

According to National Native Title Tribunal Deputy President the Hon Fred Chaney today's determination is the first outcome of the campaign the Martu People have waged for more than 20 years to have their traditional rights to land recognised.

The native title process had provided an opportunity for the Martu People to deal with issues going back to the Pilbara Aboriginal Workers Strike of 1946 when about 500 people walked off stations across the Pilbara, protesting against the conditions they had to endure in the pastoral industry.

'Initially eight native title applications were lodged over this area, a reflection of the division between the groups. The Tribunal mediated between the claimant groups to achieve the united applicant group which was able to negotiate with the State Government for recognition of their traditional rights to land,' he said.

'This is a great example of the native title process also being used as a healing process.'

The determination recognises the native title of the Martu People over part of the area they claimed. The remaining areas, including the Rudall River National Park, unvested reserves and some mining leases and general purpose leases, were excluded from the determination to take account of the Ward decision.

The High Court found that native title is extinguished by the vesting of Crown reserves under s.33 of the Land Act 1933 (WA) and this may apply to the Rudall River National Park.

'For the Martu People the national park is of key significance and the Tribunal welcomes the State Government's announcement that it will negotiate with the native title holders with the aim of reaching a mutually acceptable joint management arrangement for the national park.

'Traditional interests in the national park can be dealt with by an agreement that respects the park's status and traditional aspirations. There is now an opportunity to have those traditional interests acknowledged in some way outside of the native title process.'

Mr Chaney congratulated all the parties to the negotiations, noting the persistence and stamina of the Martu People. The Ngaanyatjarra Land Council and the Kimberley Land Council which represented the Martu People and the Ngurrara People respectively were also acknowledged for their hard work in representing the applicants.

Martu Native Title Determination - Backgrounder

Today's determination is the result of the Martu People's quarter century struggle to gain recognition of their traditional rights to their country. Their native title application sought acknowledgment of their rights and interests over 152,975 sq kms in the Western Desert region of Western Australia 1000 km north-east of Perth. This application included Rudall River National Park and part of the Canning Stock Route.

Partial determination Following the High Court's judgment in Western Australia v Ward [2002] HCA 28, which was handed down on 8 August 2002, the parties reached agreement about the areas over which the Martu People have the right to exclusive possession (among other rights). Part of the determination area is recognised as being country where the Martu and Ngurrara Peoples have joint native title. The remaining part of the claim area over which no determination is presently made includes areas which are affected by pre-1 January 1994 granted mining leases and general purpose leases, certain current unvested reserves and Rudall River National Park, among others. Most of this remaining area will be the subject of further negotiations. A small part of the claim area that overlaps with the Ngalia application will be dealt with in other Federal Court proceedings at a later date. Due to the postponement of negotiations over these areas, the area covered by today's determination is 136,000 sq km.

Division resolved through native title process The communities in the Western Desert resisted the fragmentation and displacement that began with white settlement. This culminated in the Pilbara Aboriginal Workers Strike, which began in 1946 when approximately 500 people walked off pastoral stations across the Pilbara, protesting against the conditions and treatment they were forced to endure in the pastoral industry. Not all of the Martu People were involved in the strike. Some remained on pastoral stations and became part of a group known as 'McLeod's Mob' led by prospector/miner, Don McLeod. This division amongst the Martu People continued in the decades to follow. Since 1976, when a conservation reserve was proposed near culturally significant Durba Hills, they have fought for their title to their country. Inevitably, some groups had competing claims to land in the broad Martu claim area. After the Native Title Act commenced in January 1994, eight native title applications were lodged over the area. Seven were later withdrawn following mediation between the claimant groups conducted by the Deputy President Fred Chaney. Late in 1998, the groups signed an agreement to work as a united group.

Mediation between Martu and interested parties Late in 1996, the Tribunal notified people with an interest in the Martu claim area. Initially, there were 24 parties to the claim. Negotiations between the State Government and the applicants spanned many years and led to an agreement between the State and the applicants, represented by the Ngaanyatjarra Land Council, to work towards a consent determination. In October 2001, the Tribunal began mediating between the interested parties: the State of Western Australia, Newcrest Mining Ltd, Mt Burgess Mining NL, Straits Resources Limited, Rio Tinto Exploration Pty Limited, Shire of Wiluna, Telstra Corporation Ltd and the Ngurrara claimants, represented by the Kimberley Land Council Aboriginal Corporation. The mediation resulted in the identification of the area to be covered by the determination made today. Included in the determination is recognition of an area of shared country that will be held jointly by Martu and Ngurrara native title holders. This covers approximately 5,600 sq km around the Percival Lakes region.

 Martu determination map PDF