SYDNEY • Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has settled the nation's longest-running land rights claim, handing Aborigines land title deeds wrapped in eucalyptus paper bark 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. The claim has progressed through three hearings in the Federal Court and two in the High Court .
Mr Turnbull said in a televised speech on the Cox Peninsula: "We formally recognise what Larrakia people have always known: That this is Aboriginal land... 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."
Australia's Aboriginal people were dispossessed when the continent was colonised by Britain in the 18th century, but native title laws now allow land claims if Aborigines can prove an unbroken association with the land.
Aboriginal land owner Jason Singh told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC): "I am very happy after 37 years, we have got our land back."
But ABC also reported that the celebration was interupted by an angry Larrakia elder, Mr Eric Fejo, in traditional paint, who complained about being excluded from the Kenbi claim.
Aboriginal native title now covers more than 2.4 million sq km of Australia, or 31 per cent of the national land mass. 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 it as recognition of their place as Australia's first people.