The Single Noongar Claim

In February 2003, SWALSC held a number of claimant meetings across the entire southwest where they asked whether or not Noongar wanted to carry on with the process begun by the Noongar Land Council and proceed with the creation of a single claim. Given the status of native title in Australia in that period—especially in the wake of the negative Ward and Yorta Yorta decisions[9]—and the degree of native title extinguishment asserted in the southwest, a single native title claim was seen by many Noongar as providing a much stronger position to argue from and as having the greatest potential for securing a negotiated outcome. In addition, the other reason for moving from six claims to a single claim, as discussed above, was partly to do with capacity—or more precisely a lack of it. Despite being reduced to six claims, SWALSC still did not possess the capacity to fund all of them simultaneously. As discussed above, the intention had always been to reduce the 78 claims to one single claim but, for pragmatic reasons, it was decided that this process would be best achieved through an intermediate step—in this case a transition from 78 to six claims, and then from there down to a single claim (Lynette Lund, pers. comm., 25 November 2004).

However, while it was decided that SWALSC would move towards a single claim, they decided as an organisation that they would continue to retain the existing structure of six working parties. But, concerned with the negative feedback they had been receiving about the working party system, SWALSC presented an alternative working party structure to Noongar at the claimant meetings they held across the southwest. In this new system, the old working party arrangements would be completely overhauled and each family who had interests in the region would choose two family members to represent them on their regional working party. These representatives could be named applicants on the original claim or on the new single claim but this need not necessarily be the case. The only criterion was that they needed to be appointed by their families, although the exact selection process used was to be determined by each family. Both resolutions, that SWALSC move towards the creation of a Single Noongar Claim and that the working party system be restructured, were carried at all of the claimant meetings.

In order to go forward with this restructuring of the working party system, the original applicants needed to agree. Not all applicants agreed to this though, as despite assurances by SWALSC and other Noongar that removal as an applicant did not remove applicants from the group or from their standing in traditional lore and custom, they nonetheless felt that there was more risk involved in them going with this new structure. While this small group did not prevent the transfer and creation of a new working group structure, it did present problems that at a later date were to come back to haunt SWALSC and the creation of the Single Noongar Claim.

[9] See, State of Western Australia v Ward (2000) 170 ALR 159, (2000) FCA 191; and Members of the Yorta Yorta Aboriginal Community v Victoria (2001) 180 ALR 655.