Mabo changes nothing: Wiradjuri academic

30 MAY 2012

CSU Koori academic and Wiradjuri elder, Yalmambirra believes that 20 years on from the High Court's Mabo decision, nothing has changed for his people.

Charles Sturt University (CSU) Koori academic and Wiradjuri elder, Yalmambirra believes that 20 years on from the High Court’s Mabo decision, nothing has changed for his people.
A lecturer in Indigenous studies with CSU’s School of Environmental Sciences, Yalmambirra is also studying a PhD titled The Validity of Indigenous Cultures in Contemporary Australia: A Wiradjuri Case Study.
“The Mabo decision of 1992 overturned the lie that was terra nullius, but what has this decision done for my people?” he asks.
“The answer is located in current government legislation and policy. Native title recognised the laws, customs and traditions of Wiradjuri, and all Indigenous people. But Wiradjuri people under current law are not allowed to practice specific traditional aspects of their cultures. To do so would see them in jail for child abuse for example. The Mabo decision did nothing to change the cultural status of Wiradjuri.”
Yalmambirra argues that in order to be successful in a claim for land under the Native Title Act of 1993, Wiradjuri must satisfy criteria set down by non-Indigenous people in positions of judicial power.
“These criteria are built upon the premise that cultures have remained static, have not changed and that Wiradjuri still live on traditional country and lead traditional lives,” he said. “One must question the mentality of those who passed the judgement 20 years ago. Surely they must have known that these criteria could not possibly be filled by those living in urban areas of their traditional country.”
Yalmambirra said the 1998 decision regarding the the Yorta Yorta Aboriginal Community v the State of Victoria and Ors is an example of how the failure to fulfil this criteria can have devastating outcomes for native title claimants.
“Because the Yorta Yorta had dared to suggest that their culture was dynamic and not static, that the changes made to culture were in fact part and parcel of their lives, their claim was rejected on the grounds that environmental conservation for example, was not part of their culture.
“I am afraid that the Yorta Yorta judgment will set a precedent that will not be kind to Wiradjuri people. Like the Yorta Yorta, Wiradjuri cultures have changed and adapted over the last 200 plus years and with these came changes in the way in which we care for country. The judicial system must understand that cultures are dynamic, just as people are.
“The problem with native title can also be found in the historical published narratives that sit on the shelves of lawyers and judges. These narratives are taken as the gospel when it comes to Indigenous people and cultures.
“The oral narratives of the claimants may be listened to by the High Court judges, but in the end, they seem to have no standing against the written word. Do these judges really listen to what we have to say? The inference is, no they do not.
“I believe that native title takes away our authenticity as Wiradjuri people. Our identity is always under question and our traditional lands grow smaller every day as settlement expands in ever increasing numbers of people and the infrastructure that surely has to follow. Nothing has changed,” he said.
Read about more perspectives on the Mabo case on CSU News here.

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