SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday (June 21) settled the nation's longest-running land rights claim, handing Aborigines land title deeds wrapped in eucalyptus paperbark to a peninsula on Darwin harbour in the tropical north.
The Kenbi land claim, covering 676 sq km of the Cox Peninsula west of Darwin, was first lodged by a group of Larrakia Aboriginal people 37 years ago in 1979.
"We formally recognise what Larrakia people have always known: That this is Aboriginal land," Turnbull said in a televised speech on the Cox Peninsula. "I acknowledge that the Larrakia cared for this country for tens of thousands of years and that your songs have been sung since time out of mind," he said.
Australia's aboriginal people were dispossessed when the continent was colonised by Britain in the eighteenth century, but native title laws now allow land claims if Aborigines can prove an unbroken association with the land.
"I am very happy after 37 years, we have got our land back,"aboriginal landowner Jason Singh told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "I am very sad that our mums are not here today."
Aboriginal native title now covers more than 2.4 million sq km of Australia, or 31 per cent of the national landmass.
Australia's roughly 700,000 indigenous citizens, who track near the bottom of its 23 million citizens in almost every economic and social indicator, see native title as recognition of their place as Australia's first people.