Mer Island celebrates freehold title win

Celebrations are continuing in the Torres Strait, for many Meriam people, after the Queensland government handed them freehold title to the rest of Mer Island on Friday.

It came twenty years after the historic Mabo High Court decision set the ball rolling for native title claims.

The transfer of community freehold title to Meriam people on Friday by the Queensland Government through its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Minister, Glenn Elmes went smoothy with celebrations that went on through the night.

“Eddie say he need that piece of paper to say he owned Murray Island,” said Doug Passi, the Mer Gedkem Le (Torres Strait Islanders) Corporation. “All organisations deal with the state government, now they deal with us directly rather than the state.”

However, it was not without opposition.

Three days earlier a group of Meriam Elders tried to stop it going ahead by seeking an injunction in the Supreme Court of Queensland. Michael Passi is a member of the group which submitted the application.

They say not enough consultation occurred with all Meriam people.

"As far as we are concerned all the traditional land owners, most of them on the mainland – Cairns Townsville, Brisbane – were not properly consulted on the land transfer,” said Mr Passi.

While the Murray Islands group including Mer, Dauan and Waier only has a total population of nearly 450 people, Passi says that there are up to 3,000 Meriam people around the state.

The Elders Group believes that the freehold title doesn't recognise their traditional ownership rights gained in the Mabo decision.

They told NITV news: "The planned transfer has crystallised the Meriam people's opposition to native title as developed in Canberra and exposed shortcomings in the administration of the legislation which has flowed from the original High Court Mabo decision.

"Traditional owners fear that transfer of the reserve to the Federal native title regime will be the first step towards losing their lands and culture."

The injunction to stop the transfer was withdrawn by the Meriam Elders group on Thursday. The Elders Group says it will pursue further action against the transfer next year and is already gathering names on a petition of Meriam people against the handback.

“This affects us here on Murray Island,” said Passi. “Once it starts here, we the head of the Mabo case that will leave all Indigenous people in Australia wide open to the government.”

Source: SBS