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The Guardian 28 January, 2009

Invasion Day function in WA

Richard Titelius

At an Invasion Day function on a hot Perth day, a small group gathered at the Willagee Community Centre to hear Palyku elder Gladys Milroy talk about her experiences with making a claim under the provisions of the Native Title Act and the obstacles which the Palyku people have endured and will continue to endure with it.

Before the Mabo ruling of the High Court in 1992 which eliminated the concept of Terra Nullis (empty land), attempts were made to deal with land rights in Western Australia in the wake of that state’s mineral resources boom of the mid to late 1980s.

However, the powerful and parochial mining and pastoral interests at the time embarked on a fear campaign through the willing participation of the corporate media, that not only were jobs in the mining boom at stake but also suburban quarter acre blocks in Perth.

A quarter of a century later and not withstanding the existence and operation of a Native Title Act and tribunal, Aboriginal people are still to reap any lasting benefits from the exploitation of their land. According to Gladys Milroy there is also little ability to protect the environmental and cultural integrity of the land.

It has also become difficult and frustrating for Aboriginal claimants to jump through the many hoops which the Native Title Act requires when making claims.

In WA this requires claimants to prove a connection to the land dating back to white colonisation in 1829, to prove Aboriginality through birth certificates and the maintenance of language and customs during this time.

Many of the requirements are quite onerous to prove as it was the policies of successive white governments to frustrate Aboriginal people’s attempts to remain on their land by removing their children, rounding up Aboriginal people and putting them on reserves and missions away from their land, and the demonisation of their language and customs.

Ms Milroy said that many Aboriginal people did not see anthropologists as people who were helping them as they often believed they knew more about the Aboriginal people than the Aboriginal people knew themselves in addition to which many were paid by the mining companies.

Palyku land is rich in minerals and until the recent collapse of the global economy mining companies were very interested in pegging out mining tenements on Palyku land to explore for minerals which included iron ore, copper, molybdenum and lately uranium on the back of the WA Liberal government’s decision to lift the ban on uranium mining.

Ms Milroy stated that uranium mining is not good for Aboriginal people and in her culture there are sacred sites at places where radioactive uranium ore is close to the surface.

Gladys concluded her presentation with a call for more education on Aboriginal society and culture by mainstream teaching as there was still a lot of ignorance amongst Australians.

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