The Western Australian state government may be forced to pay a multi-million dollar compensation bill if a native title claim over a massive tract of the state, including Perth, is successful.
11 Oct 2005 - 12:00 AM  UPDATED 22 Aug 2013 - 9:37 AM

Dozens of Aboriginal representatives from across WA were in the Federal Court in Perth on Tuesday to hear the claim, led by the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (SWALSC).

Around 27,000 members of the Noongar community have filed the claim, and their lawyer told presiding judge Murray Wilcox the case will centre on the history of WA's indigenous population from sovereignty in 1829 to the current day.

Vance Hughston SC argued that a recognisable, connected Noongar society had existed throughout south-west WA since European settlers landed, and remains in place to this day.

"There are a Noongar people - they identify with the Noongar people, they identify with the Noongar language. They have the same customs that single them out as an identifiable culture," Mr Hughston said.

"The case will be based on the history of the south-west of WA from 1829 to the present, supported by expert historical evidence, expert anthropological evidence and the evidence of the Noongar people themselves."

He said while the claim will be based on indigenous evidence, the state plans to rely on historical evidence recorded by settlers at the time.

"A very British history, to be placed against the Aboriginal history," Mr Hughston told the court.

Government counsel Stephen Wright said the claim should fail because the continuing links with the land around Perth, and the traditional laws and customs connected with it, cannot be proven.

"The real question is has there been a passing on of traditional laws and customs ... and our case is that there hasn't. There has to be a chain of evidence and one cannot trace that chain," Mr Wright said.

"You certainly cannot prove that by calling (evidence from) 10 or 20 people."

After its Perth opening, the hearing will travel the state to take evidence from Aboriginal communities.

Hearings will be held in Jurien, Albany, Kelleberrin, the Swan Valley and Perth's King's Park.

The claim covers about 193,957 square kilometres of land and sea.

If successful, SWALSC has said it plans to pursue the state for compensation for all unallocated crown land before 1975 that has since been sold by the government as freehold.

Chief executive Darryl Pearce has in the past said the council would have preferred to negotiate the claim rather than resort to court action, as the case is expected to cost around $1 million.

He said the WA government refused to negotiate unless the claim was split into six regions, which the council opposed.

Tuesday's hearing, known as the Single Noongar Claim, was formally lodged in 2003 after six individual native title claims covering the south-west were rolled into one claim.

The hearing continues.