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Friday, 9 August, 2002, 09:05 GMT 10:05 UK
Court blow to Aborigine land claim
Aborigines
Aborigines claim ancestral rights to the land
A court in Australia has ruled that Aboriginal people do not have rights over minerals or oil found underneath tribal land now being used by mining companies.

The landmark decision is a blow to Aboriginal claims of ancestral rights and should also determine hundreds of other unsettled cases.


Nice little black fella, you can go hunting but you don't have any control over who goes on the land

Wayne Bergmann, Aboriginal leader
The court says Aborigines still have limited rights to hunt on the land and visit what they consider to be sacred tribal sites.

The decision has been described by Aboriginal elders as "offensive and discriminatory".

Rights 'extinguished'

The ruling was made on a 1994 claim by the Miriuwung-Gajerrong tribe to land covering 7,900 square kilometres (3,050 square miles) in north-western Australia.

The tribe says the land belonged to them, long before European settlers arrived more than 200 years ago.

The area includes the Argyle diamond mine, the largest in Australia.

In delivering his decision at the High Court in Canberra, Chief Justice Murray Gleeson said: "All native title rights and interest in respect of the land within that reserve had been extinguished before the Argyle mining lease was granted."

The mine is currently owned by the Rio Tinto firm in Melbourne, which said it was studying the 406-page ruling.

Aborigine anger

Aboriginal leaders have criticised the decision and urged the Australian Government and the mine owners to discuss better ways of sharing the land.

Wayne Bergmann, a senior Aboriginal leader from the disputed area, said the court was saying to Aborigines: "Nice little black fella, you can go hunting but you don't have any control over who goes on the land."

Hundreds of native title claims have been submitted by Aboriginal groups since 1992, following a ruling which scrapped the notion that Australia was uninhabited before Europeans arrived in 1788.

Aborigines, who number about 400,000 among 19 million Australians, are among the poorest sections of society and claim discrimination is widespread against them.

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The BBC's Dominic Hughes
"Lawyers have been debating how far aboriginal land rights extend"
See also:

04 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
04 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
21 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
02 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
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