The story behind Native Title

On February 25th around 35 U3A members and guests came to Lions Village to hear Dr Angus Frith speak about Native Title.

Dr Frith, a barrister since 1999, has practised largely in native title law, working in the field of Indigenous land rights and native title.  He has worked with Aboriginal communities across Australia regarding the recognition, enforcement and governance of their land rights and teaches at Melbourne University.

This map provided by Dr Frith, shows the original number of separate language groups of Indigenous people around Australia.

 Dr Frith talked to us about the concept of Indigenous connection to country which underpins the continuing existence of Native Title Law. Non-Indigenous people do have difficulty, he explained, in understanding this connection to land which was never ceded at white settlement, despite the original occupation being described as “peaceful annexation.”

Dr Frith covered the history of the development of Native Title including questions of treaty. In 1992 the delivery of the Mabo decision in the High Court was ground-breaking, recognising that the doctrine of terra nullius, which imported all laws of England to a new land, did not apply.

In 1996 the Wik decision in the High Court found that the statutory pastoral leases under consideration by the court did not bestow rights of exclusive possession on the leaseholder. As a result, native title rights could co-exist.

Dr Frith also talked about developments in a treaty between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians against the background of treaties already developed in the US, Canada and New Zealand.

The State of Victoria currently appears to be the most advanced along the Treaty road in Australia with a 33 member First peoples’ Assembly elected just last year.

In fact Jordan Edwards, a Wathaurong man, is a member of that Assembly and will be the Guest Speaker at the forthcoming U3A SurfCoast AGM on March 19th. Dr Frith’s address provoked a myriad of questions from the audience. He also happens to be the son-in-law of U3A member Pauline Edwards.

Pauline Edmonds and Dr Angus Frith

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