Traditional Owners in Western Australia’s Goldfields region could lead the way for native title compensations across the nation after two claims were recently filed in the Federal Court for damage and loss of access to land as a result of acts by the WA Government and mining companies.
Tjiwarl people, from WA’s desert country, had their native title determined in 2017 for land covering 7800sqkm claim between Leonora and Wiluna in the state’s Goldfields region.
Tjiwarl native title holders are seeking compensation for the development of segments of the Goldfields Highway, segments of the Goldfields gas pipeline, gravel pits and water bores, the creation and renewal of pastoral leases, various mining projects and groundwater licenses for such projects.
Tjiwarl Aboriginal Corporation chief Greg Ryan-Gadsden told NITV News on Tuesday the compensation case, which was lodged last Wednesday, could be the most important since the Mabo decision in 1992.
“This case is a landmark case for Australia in recognising that the past damage should have been compensated and this is the test case for it,” Mr Ryan-Gadsden said.
“It's about past damage to country, to transfer the legal term is impairment, so it means the difficulties that the Tjiwarl people had in accessing their native title area due to activities that's been happening there by government and other parties like mining... so the claim is about the compensation for that impairment over a long period of time."
Mr Ryan-Gadsden said compensation is a secondary interest for TOs who are seeking recognition for the destruction of land, culture and heritage.
“This is really about the acknowledgement of damage to country, of impairments of members to go and hunt and fish, song[lines], taking young people to learn the language and the stories about cultural heritage, it’s really the impairment to all of those things,” said Mr Ryan-Gadsden.
Tjiwarl Aboriginal Corporation chairman Brett Lewis said the native title holders want compensation for the impairment of their rights.
“Many of us are still on Country looking after Tjukurrpa (dreaming) sites. We can’t access all of the areas and this causes a lot of shame for our people because we can’t meet our cultural responsibilities,” Mr Lewis said in a statement.
TOs also said the environment and landscape have been irreversibly impacted with no regard for the special value that it holds for the Tjiwarl people.
Last March, the High Court ruled native title holders from Timber Creek, in the Northern Territory, would receive $2.5 million in compensation for loss of their rights, including spiritual connection to the land.
At the time, experts said the Timber Creek case had as much significance as the historic Mabo case. The Timber Creek case resulted in the first time the High Court examined the Native Title Act's compensation provisions.
Mr Ryan-Gadsden said the Tjiwarl case is expected to take years to resolve.