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Desert court recognises Martu title rights.
A FULLY-robed federal court judge sitting in desert country in remote WA has formally recognised the Martu people's rights to Australia's biggest land claim - double the size of Tasmania.
After six years of negotiations, recognition has been given to the Martu people's traditional ownership of 136,000 square kilometres in WA's East Pilbara, taking in parts of the Gibson and Great Sandy deserts.
The people, made up of 12 different language groups, came into contact with European Australians only in the 1950s, when they were taken from their land to accommodate Britain's testing of the "Blue Streak" missile.
The Martu returned to the area in the early 1980s.
The native title claim was lodged in late 1996, originally over a 153,000 square kilometre area, including the Rudall River National Park.
But the park is not included in the final determination because of the High Court's recent ruling in the Miriuwung-Gajerrong case, which said the vesting of a reserve extinguished Native Title.
The determination was reached by consent between the Martu and seven other parties, including the WA government, Newcrest Mining, Rio Tinto Exploration and Telstra.
It recognises the Martu's rights to hunt, gather and fish and to use natural resources such as ochre, soils, rock and stones, flora and fauna.
Those rights do not extend to ownership of minerals and petroleum, and public access to the Canning Stock route is preserved.
Claimant Bobby Roberts, 50, said he was shocked the determination finally had been ratified.
"The Martu's been struggling for a long time. It's one of those things that will ease a lot of our people's minds or give them peace," Mr Roberts said.
"It was really hard. We were trying to tell someone the land we were fighting for was (always) ours but the way we had to prove it took us a long time."
National Native Title Tribunal deputy president Fred Chaney said the Martu had really been fighting for recognition of their traditional ownership of the land for a generation.
"It's a mark of the importance that Aboriginal people put on their connection with the land that ... they didn't give up," Mr Chaney said.
Deputy Premier Eric Ripper said the determination was unusual in that it also specified an area of overlapping Native Title rights between the Martu and Ngurrara people.
Federal Court justice Robert French ratified the determination in an area of the Pilbara known as Parnngurr rockholes.
© 2002 West Australian Newspapers Limited
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