Reconnecting people with country

ANU anthropology expertise has enabled a plethora of Indigenous land rights and native title claims to succeed. But now there’s a new frontier, as RICHARD FOX reports.

Land rights cases and native title claims have grown substantially during the past few decades as Indigenous Australians become empowered to lay claim to their land.

And a small but dedicated team of anthropologists at ANU has worked tirelessly for more than 50 years to enable the transference of land to its traditional owners.

It was 1973 when then postdoctoral Research Fellow (now Professor) Nicolas Peterson was appointed to the Woodward Royal Commission, also known as the Aboriginal Land Rights Commission, to inquire into the appropriate ways to recognise Aboriginal land rights in the Northern Territory.

“The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 that resulted from the Commission’s work is the high watermark in land rights legislation in Australia,” Peterson says.

“As a consequence, myself and other people at ANU have researched and written land claim reports for areas throughout the Northern Territory. We have been instrumental in securing 120,000 square kilometres of land back into the hands of traditional owners.

“One such land claim was 85,000sq km, about the size of Ireland.”

Dozens of native title claims have now been through the court system but now the claims are taking on a new phase.