Instrumentalizations of history and the Single Noongar Claim

Abstract : In 2003, 80 Aboriginal Noongar, represented by the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (SWALSC), lodged the 'Single Noongar Claim', an application for native title, on behalf of all Noongar people, over the South West of Western Australia, including the Perth metropolitan area. At the request of the State of Western Australia and the Commonwealth, the hearing over the Perth area commenced first in 2005 before Justice Wilcox, who handed down his judgement in 2006. He recognised the existence of a single Noongar community, governed by a normative system of laws and customs at the date of settlement in 1829, and confirmed the continuity of that community and normative system to the present day. He identified eight surviving native title rights that should be recognised, subject to extinguishment. The State and Commonwealth governments appealed this decision. In 2008, the full Federal Court confirmed the existence of a single Noongar society at sovereignty. However, the full Court overturned the positive determination and sent the case back to another court for reconsideration. In consultation with the Noongar, SWALSC decided to pursue the Single Noongar Claim through negotiations with the State government. These negotiations should soon be concluded. The concept of history and its interpretations, rather than culture, tradition or practice, played a central role in the prosecution of the separate proceeding and its subsequent appeal, and is still central to the negotiations with the State government. I illustrate how history as such as has been instrumentalized by the various parties involved in the Single Noongar Claim. The applicants used historical evidence to prove the continuity of the Noongar community, a view adopted by Justice Wilcox. On the contrary, the State and Commonwealth argued that, due to the history of dispossession in the South West, the maintenance of 'traditional' laws and customs to the present day was impossible. The judges of the full Court accepted their claim that continuity had not been proved for each generation and were dissatisfied with Justice Wilcox's consideration of the historical context as an explanation for change. Eventually, to prepare themselves for the negotiations with the State of Western Australia, SWALSC used history again as an empowering tool proving the continuity and strength of the Noongar community.
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Contributor : Virginie Bernard <>
Submitted on : Tuesday, April 29, 2014 - 10:49:34 AM
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Virginie Bernard. Instrumentalizations of history and the Single Noongar Claim. Australian Aboriginal Anthropology Today: Critical Perspectives from Europe, Jan 2013, Paris, France. ⟨halshs-00782311⟩

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