Landmark Decision: Native Title Recognised over Torres Strait Sea Country
In a groundbreaking decision, the Federal Court of Australia approved the recognition of native title over 40,000 square kilometres of Torres Strait sea-country in December 2022. This momentous settlement was reached through collaboration between five First Nations groups and the Queensland and Federal governments, marking the first time that a native title claim has brought together Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to achieve joint outcomes.
Remarkably, the evidence submitted in support of the claim was so compelling that the native title was accepted without the need for a trial. Justice Deborah Mortimer of the Federal Court was particularly impressed by the wealth of material presented. The evidence demonstrated a profound connection to and understanding of the sea country, showcasing how the First Nations people spoke about the crashing waves on the Great Barrier Reef, the sounds they heard, and their ability to navigate using the stars at night and distinguish between different reefs. This depth of knowledge left a lasting impression on Justice Mortimer, who acknowledged that it may be challenging for outsiders to fully grasp the significance of this connection.
The decision marks a significant step forward in recognizing and respecting the traditional rights and cultural heritage of Indigenous communities over the seas, setting a precedent for future native title claims in Australia. By acknowledging the intrinsic bond between First Nations people and their ancestral lands and waters, this landmark ruling paves the way for greater reconciliation and preservation of Indigenous culture and heritage.
The precedent reads like the supporting evidence provided in any adverse possession claim. Key Native title cases
What’s next? The waterways like the Yarra River (originally called Birrarung)? Maybe.
* Originally called Birrarung by the Wurundjeri, the current name was mistranslated from another Wurundjeri term in the Boonwurrung language; Yarro-yarro, meaning “ever-flowing”. The river was utilised primarily for agriculture by early European settlers. The landscape of the river has changed dramatically since 1835. Source Wikipedia