The Noongar people's native title claim to an area encompassing metropolitan Perth suffered a setback in a decision of the Federal Court full bench on April 23. The court upheld an appeal by the federal and state governments against a 2006 Federal Court decision that favoured a claim brought by the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (SWALSC).
In the 2006 case, in which SWALSC claimed native title over 600 square kilometres of the city and surrounding areas, Justice Murray Wilcox recognised that native title existed in the metropolitan area on unoccupied crown land and that the Noongar people had continued their traditional customs since European settlement in 1829. The state and federal governments immediately moved to appeal the decision, claiming that the Noongar had never existed.
"Many Noongar elders gave evidence about the Noongar society. The original ruling was a very proud day for the Noongar people", Glen Kelly, CEO of SWALSC, said in a statement before the appeal decision was handed down.
The full bench decision did not give the two governments everything they wanted. They had sought a ruling that there was no legitimate native title claim over Perth. Instead, the judges referred the case back to a single judge for another hearing.
Following the appeal decision, Ted Hart, SWALSC chairperson said: "We can still go on fighting, and we will."