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Canberra Times 28th July 2011
After a 15-year legal saga, native title rights have been granted to two Aboriginal groups in a Federal Court session on Victoria's coast.
The Gunditjmara and Eastern Maar peoples were yesterday granted native title ownership of Deen Maar Island, also known as Lady Julia Percy Island, and 4000 hectares of Crown land between Dunkeld and Yambuk on Victoria's south-west coast.
At a special sitting of the Federal Court of Australia at Yambuk, Justice Tony North granted the consent determination, sought by the Gunditjmara and Eastern Maar peoples and consented to through mediation.
Handing down his decision, Justice North said the day marked a special achievement for the Gunditjmara and Eastern Maar people.
"But their success is a shared victory," Justice North said.
"By doing justice to the Gunditjmara and Eastern Maar people, the state, the commonwealth and the other respondents have taken a step to right past wrongs."
Long struggle is over, say indigenous leaders
Jono Pech Warrnambool Standard 28th July 2011
Gunditjmara and Eastern Maar leaders have described yesterday's historic native title resolution as the end of a long struggle for recognition.
The landmark occasion granting land rights in south-west Victoria was not only symbolic in reconciliating past wrongs, but it made official what had been culturally known by the Aboriginal tribes for generations.
For the Gunditjmara people the federal order handed down at Yambuk Coastal Reserve was the end of a 15-year legal battle for recognition.
Gunditjmara elder John Lovett was part of the tribe's first application for native title in 1996 and said since then the process had been "one hell of a long struggle."
"Today is very, very, very significant day for the two Gunditjmara mobs, and this morning is a morning that will go down in the annals of history," Mr Lovett said.
"Not just in south-west Victoria, but for all indigenous people."
While the Eastern Marr and Gunditjmara people have always been sure of their identity and their land, the native title shows a final recognition of where they belong as a people, Mr Lovett said.
"We never lost our pride or connection to the country.
"This morning I put on this red shirt to remind myself of what was lost, the red blood that was shed to try and resist white settlement.
"It also reminds us of the Gunditjmara blood that is still running through both camps today."
For Eastern Maar spokesman Geoff Clark, yesterday ended the hardship his people had endured over the past 150 years at the Framlingham mission.
"Today breaks the chains of that oppression, it takes us off the mission and gives us recognition of our proper right in this country," Mr Clark said.
"The fact that acknowledgement has come gives rise to us turning back the tide of history.
"We sit by the lake and the blood of our people has flowed (through) that lake.
"We've now put our footprints back into the sand and these young people will carry the spirit of our struggle and that recognition into the future."
Eastern Maar elder Robbie Lowe said the deliverance of native title was significant to all Aboriginal people.
"It means a hell of a lot," Mr Lowe said.
"We've been striving at this for years and to finally get that recognition is a great achievement.
"We're very proud and a lot of work has gone in behind the scenes, right from day one.
"Without the old people who have passed on before seeing this happen, we wouldn't be fighting for what we believe in."
Aborigines win native title bid
Kellee Nolan The Age July 28th 2011
After a 15-year legal saga, native title rights have been granted to two Aboriginal groups in a moving Federal Court session on Victoria's coast.
The Gunditjmara and Eastern Maar peoples yesterday were granted native title ownership of Deen Maar Island, also known as Lady Julia Percy Island, and 4000 hectares of Crown land between Dunkeld and Yambuk on Victoria's south-west coast.
At a special sitting of the Federal Court of Australia under a marquee at Yambuk, Justice Tony North granted the consent determination, sought by the Gunditjmara and Eastern Maar peoples and consented to through mediation by the Victorian government and other parties.
Justice North said the day marked a special achievement for the Gunditjmara and Eastern Maar people. "But their success is a shared victory," he said. "By doing justice to the Gunditjmara and Eastern Maar people, the state, the Commonwealth and the other respondents have taken a step to right past wrongs and lay a basis for reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians."
The decision ends a 15-year legal saga over the land. It had originally been part of a 1996 native title application by the Gunditjmara people for about 137,000 hectares.
But 4000 hectares were set aside from that application in 2007, to include the Eastern Maar people in the claim.
In 2007 Justice North granted native title rights to the Gunditjmara people over the 133,000 hectares of Crown land from the original application in a special on-country sitting at Mount Eccles.
After being at both determinations, Gunditjmara spokesman Damien Bell said yesterday's court sitting took place under a marquee, with possum skins draped over the court bench and traditional smoking ceremonies to welcome about 200 people.
"It was very moving and very emotional and then when the time came for the judge to deliver the orders ... he also handed copies of the orders to the elders of the Gunditjmara and Eastern Maar peoples," Mr Bell said. "It was very positive and very moving to end the Federal Court process after 15 years."
Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark congratulated the parties on what is Victoria's fourth native title determination.