Indigenous coastal ownership rights in Australia under threat

By Maiki Sherman
  • Australia

Indigenous coastal ownership rights in Australia are being threatened by a proposed law change to ban private ownership.

This has sparked outrage amongst the Aboriginal community of New South Wales where the proposed legislation is being debated.

These are the homelands of the Gumbaynggirr nation, elders Cecil Laurie and Milton Duroux grew up here.

The courts have only recently awarded them deeds of title to the land, more than twenty years after the claim was first lodged.

It's been a long and strenuous road for their people.

Their claim is under threat given it includes this foreshore. The New South Wales state Government has introduced an amendment bill aimed at blocking private ownership of beaches. It's similar to that which sparked the New Zealand foreshore and seabed debate in 2004.  

Chris Spencer says, "When we start to get some form of compensation in terms of our land returned and that sort of thing, the Government seem to be a little intimidated and tentative around that and I'm not sure of the reasoning why."

The Gumbaynggirr nation believes it's the first to win a claim in court, meaning there's almost 600km still under claim in New South Wales.

We're still in the same boat. We're all worried that if this legislation comes in then it retrospectively looks to supersede and extinguish those current claims that are before the New South Wales Government," says Spencer.

The Gumbaynggirr nation lodged its claim in 1993. It was never considered by Government until 2009 when it was rejected by the minister. They then appealed that decision in court and won.

"I just cant understand how they can come in and say no you have to wait. A new Government comes in, changes the new legislation again. You've got to start all over again," says Milton Duroux.

On the 24th of next month the deeds of title to this land are supposed to be transferred to the Gumbaynggirr nation. They say it's a waiting game.