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Friday, 27 September, 2002, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
Aborigines recover vast territory
Aboriginal protest over land
This is the largest of hundreds of land claims
In a remote desert ceremony, an Australian judge on Friday handed over rights to a huge swathe of land to the Martu Aboriginal tribe.

Dressed in his ceremonial robes, federal judge Robert French conducted the court session in the Parnngurr rock holes in western Australia to return the 136,000 square kilometres (54,000 square miles) to the tribe.


It was really hard. We were trying to tell someone the land we were fighting for was (always) ours. But the way we had to prove it took us a long time

Bobby Roberts, claimant
The area - more than four times the size of Belgium - is the largest piece of land to be returned to Aboriginal control since land claims began to be settled 10 years ago.

Although the Aborigines will be allowed to hunt, gather, fish and use the area's natural resources, they will not have ownership of the rich mineral and petroleum deposits which exist there.

Ballistic interests

"The Martu's been struggling for a long time. It's one of those things that will ease a lot of our people's minds or give them peace," said Bobby Roberts who lodged the claim for the 2,000 strong tribe.

"It was really hard. We were trying to tell someone the land we were fighting for was (always) ours. But the way we had to prove it took us a long time," he said.

The Martu were driven off the land in the 1950s, when the British government wanted to use it to test intercontinental ballistic missiles.

They began their fight to be given legal title to the land six years ago.

Though small in number, the Martu speak 12 different Aboriginal languages and maintain a traditional lifestyle, hunting kangaroos and wild birds.

Colonialists quashed

In 1992, a ruling quashed the idea that Australia had been empty until the arrival of European colonisers in the 18th Century.

That opened the way for Aborigines to lay legal claim to lands they had traditionally inhabited.

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

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Dan O'Day, the Martu's senior laywer
"It was a rather informal procedure"
See also:

09 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
04 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
04 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
21 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
02 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Links to more Asia-Pacific stories are at the foot of the page.


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