Last month, the Ngaliwurru and Nungali people of Timber Creek, six hundred kilometres south of Darwin, were awarded 3.3 million dollars in compensation for the extinguishment of their native title rights.
The NT Government is appealing the decision on the grounds that the methodology used to determine the payout did not have clear enough guidelines.
Federal court judge John Mansfield recently found in favour of claimants acting for the Ngaliwurru and Nungali people from Timber Creek.
Justice Mansfield said that the dispossession had caused anxiety, hurt and shame among Traditional Owners, and that they were entitled to have their property rights vindicated.
The decision could establish a legal precedent for billions of dollars in liability payouts by states, territories to Aboriginal peoples who suffered loss of native title due to actions by government and lessees.
While the Northern Territory government has accepted some aspects of the decision, it is appealing the methodology which determined the costs – amounting to $3,300,261, including $512,000 for the economic value of the extinguished rights, more than $1.48m in interest, and another $1.3m for pain and suffering.
Under the Native Title Act, Indigenous Australians can claim a range of native title land rights if they can prove an ongoing connection to the land. These rights can be lost if freehold title or leases have been granted on the land, a mechanism which protects farmers and property-owners.
Under the legislation, Traditional Owners are able to claim compensation from authorities for dispossession.
In the case of Timber Creek, the government built a concrete bridge over traditional dreaming sites and a water-tank on an important storyline area.
“Aboriginal people don’t like it, they get angry,” Alan Griffiths told the court.
His son, Chris Griffiths, explained that local elders had told his father to look after the country, and to keep it as a place to teach his children.
“Your stomach turns around and around inside when you know and feel that something bad has happened to you, and you can feel it in your stomach,” Chris Griffiths said. “You don’t feel right.”
Locals gave evidence about fences which cut them off from hunting grounds, infrastructure built over traditional tracks and damage done to traditional cultural areas.