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Thursday, 12 December, 2002, 08:16 GMT
Aborigines lose land battle
Aboriginal protest over land
This ruling ends an eight-year battle

Australia's High Court has rejected an appeal by an indigenous group for possession of a vast swathe of land, ending the country's longest-running aboriginal land dispute.

The Yorta Yorta people had claimed traditional ownership of more than 2,000 square kilometres (770 square miles) of territory on the border of New South Wales and Victoria.

The High Court in Canberra on Thursday upheld a ruling that the "tide of history" had washed away their claim to the land, near Echuca, on Murray River.

A panel of judges found representatives from the Yorta Yorta failed to demonstrate they had traditional claims to the land.

The court decided the Yorta Yorta tribe had lost its character as a traditional community after European settlement in 1788.

Landmark case

Chief Justice Murray Gleeson said the group had failed to meet any of the requirements set out in the 1993 Native Title Act. It states that traditional customs must be "substantially uninterrupted" for a case to succeed and the claimants to prove a deep connection to the land.

Last year, the Federal Court found the Yorta Yorta's relationship with the land had been broken over time. The High Court's decision to uphold that ruling is seen as a test case for many other native title claims around Australia.

The Yorta Yorta people said that justice had failed them and promised to fight on. Their lawyers insisted the decision of the judges was racist and pitiless and had not taken indigenous heritage into consideration.

The ruling from Australia's highest court ends an eight-year battle estimated to have cost more than $10m (A$20m). Evidence against the aboriginal claim included written accounts suggesting their ancestors had lost their land and ceased to practise their traditions by the 1880s.

The federal government had opposed the native title claim along with its state counterparts in Victoria and New South Wales.

See also:

27 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
09 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
04 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
04 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
02 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
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