On March 30, a Federal Court hearing at Nepabunna gave a consent determination finally confirming the Adnyamathanha people's native title rights over their traditional lands.
The decision conveys non-exclusive rights over an area of 41,085 square kilometres in the mid-north of South Australia that takes in the Flinders Ranges National Park and Heathgate Resources' Beverley uranium mine.
However, the determination only partially resolves a claim over the 367 square kilometre Angepena pastoral lease and excluded areas in the north and south of the original claim on the basis of lack of evidence of connection to the land.
The Leigh Creek coalmine and township were also excluded from the claim, native title having been declared extinguished in those areas.
Vince Coulthard, chairperson of the Adnyamathanha Traditional Land Association, expressed his belief that the settlement would empower Adnyamathanha people, providing protection to important sites, more control over their land, and clarifying the responsibilities of other land users towards the traditional owners.
Adnyamathanha people were at the forefront of opposition to the Beverley mine and there is hope that the native title determination may help them curb its planned expansion.
The original Adnyamathanha claim, lodged in 1994, was the first native title claim lodged in South Australia. In 1999 it was combined by agreement with four other claims lodged separately by Adnyamathanha people, and in 2000 was combined with an overlapping claim from the Kuyani that covered the national park. Other overlaps with Arabunna, Barngarla, Dieri, and Nukunu native title claims were resolved by agreement.
Since the inception of the native title process in the 1990s, this is only the fourth claim to be resolved in South Australia. Twenty are yet to be determined, six have been struck out or dismissed, and 13 claims have been refused registration.
Although a significant victory for the traditional owners, the process highlights the inequality at the heart of Australia. A people with an uncontestable heritage have had to struggle for 15 years, bearing the sole burden of proof, to have that simple fact acknowledged.
Once again, the dispossessed have been required to justify their existence to the coloniser, and many of the benefits that may come to the people from this agreement — protection of significant sites, employment, compensation, care of the environment, the right to pursue culture — are taken for granted by most people as part and parcel of simply being a citizen.