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Chilla Well Victory to traditional owners

September 1988

Land Rights News Vol2 No10 Sep 1988. The Federal Court has dismissed an appeal by the Northern Territory Government against a land grant to the traditional owners of Chilla Well area. The Government had submitted that there was a public road on the claim area, which is about 400 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs.

The "public road" is a graded dirt track, which was made especially to take a water drill to an outstation at Mt Theo. Less than 10 kilometres of the track fell within the claim area. Roads "over which the public have a right of way" are not claimable under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act. Justice Wilcox dismissed the appeal on 3 August, finding that the appeal grounds were "inappropriate."

The Director of the Central Land Council, Pat Dodson, cited the case as the latest in a long line of failed Northern Territory appeals against land claims "on the flimsiest of grounds."

Mr Dodson pointed out that the Territory Government had never won outright an appeal in a case within the Central Land Council area. "The Territory Government is flexing whatever muscle it has to deny justice to Aboriginal people through what can only be seen as an abuse of the judicial process," he said.

The Government was gaining a reputation as a vexatious litigant, and should modify its approach to co-operate with Aboriginal organisations. In a responding statement, the Northern Territory Attorney General, Mr Manzie, said that the Central Land Council itself had lodged appeals in land claim cases, and that the Government supported "the concept" of land rights.

Mr Dodson pointed out that the Attorney General had failed to explain its almost compulsive habit of appealing on flimsy grounds. "He must realise that the Central Land Council acts on behalf of Aboriginal people and has an obligation to legitimately pursue their claims and aspirations for their land." "The Territory Government claims to represent the interest of all Territorians, but conveniently forgets about its Aboriginal constituency.

It really represents the powerful interests of pastoralists and business," Mr Dodson said.