The WA premier announced in early July that the government was offering the Noongar people a $1.3 billion offer to settle native title claims over Perth and the South West. The Noongar claim has spent years winding through the courts, resulting in an historic win in the Federal Court in Bennell v Western Australia  FCA 1243. The court in that case found, amongst other things:
A major issue in the Single Noongar case was whether it can be said the present Noongar community continues to acknowledge and observe its traditional laws and customs concerning land. Undoubtedly, there have been changes in the land rules. It would have been impossible for it to be otherwise, given the devastating effect on the Noongars of dispossession from their land and other social changes. However, I have concluded that the contemporary Noongar community acknowledges and observes laws and customs relating to land which are a recognisable adaptation to their situation of the laws and customs existing at the date of settlement. In particular, contemporary Noongars continue to observe a system under which individuals obtain special rights over particular country – their boodjas – through their father or mother, or occasionally a grandparent. Those rights are generally recognised by other Noongars, who must obtain permission to access another person’s boodja for any traditional purpose. Present day Noongars also maintain the traditional rules as to who may ‘speak for’ particular country.
However the Full Federal Court refused to determine whether there was native title in the area, referring the case back to the docket judge. Traditional owners had described this as going back to square one. While the WA government initially indicated it would ‘rigorously appeal’ the decision, in 2008 the Attorney General signalled a government preference for negotiating an outcome.
This offer is part of the ongoing negotiations between traditional owners and the WA government. South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council is holding a series of information sessions for Noongar during the month of August 2013.
KATE GALLOWAY teaches law at James Cook University.