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Australian court rules Perth belongs to Aborigines

Published 21/09/2006

Aborigines won native title to land that includes a state capital - and major Australian city - for the first time, potentially setting a precedent that could apply to other capitals.

A Federal Court judge in Canberra ruled that the Noongar people were the traditional owners of a 2,300 square mile area of Western Australia state that includes the state capital, Perth, a city of 1.7 million.

But the law only grants Aborigines very limited rights to the land, and indigenous people say the issue is recognition of their rights, not moving homeowners out.

Judge Murray Wilcox ruled that the Noongar people, against the odds, had maintained their culture and customs since European settlement in 1829.

The ruling means Noongar people can now exercise rights, such as hunting and fishing, over land where native title has not been extinguished by land tenures such as freehold title.

The ruling came as shock to most observers since previous claims have failed over metropolitan areas because under Australian law, freehold and leasehold title extinguishes whatever native title had previously existed.

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