Alcoota – The end of one of the NTs longest and most litigated land claims

Posted: Wed, July 18, 2012

Traditional owner Ken Tilmouth holding the title to Alcoota with the Minister for aboriginal Affairs Jenny Macklin

The handback of Alcoota to its traditional owners brings to an end one of the Northern Territory’s longest and most litigated land claims

The Alcoota pastoral lease, 100 kilometres north east of Alice Springs, was bought in 1993 by the Alcoota Aboriginal Corporation using funds from ATSIC. The funding grant had dual objectives: for the protection of traditional Aboriginal interests in the land, that is, the protection of Aboriginal culture, rituals, sacred sites and dreaming tracks and to provide a viable pastoral enterprise in order to create employment and training opportunities for Aboriginal people, particularly at Engawala.

The Alcoota Land Claim, covering  2970 square kilometers, was lodged almost immediately in March 1993 and the hearing by Aboriginal Land Commissioner Justice Gray began in 1996 but was adjourned due to politically motivated litigation intended to prevent it going ahead.

It is estimated that it cost the Northern Territory taxpayers more than $2 million in legal costs and the  case was eventually thrown out by the Supreme Court in 2002.

The land claim hearing was finally completed in 2004 and recommended for grant in 2007. Justice Gray was struck by the strength of the claimants traditional attachment to the land and commented:  “In my experience as Aboriginal Land Commissioner, I do not think I have seen more strongly manifested attachment than I witnessed among these claimants.”

The granting of the claim will benefit around 2000-2200 Aboriginal people who have associations with the area.

The claimants speak Alyawarr to the north, Anmatyerr to the west, and one or more of northern, central and eastern Arrente. They are all part of the Arandic group of languages. 

They belong to six groups that are said to be land-holding groups with respect to estates falling partly within the land claimed. They are the Ankweteng group, the Atarrkert group, the Atwel group, the Ilkewartn group, the Unemarr group, and the  Ulpmerr group.  Each   group is said to be affiliated with sites within the part of its estate that is within the land claimed.

Current activities like the fossil field research run by the NT Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport will continue to operate normally. The nearby fossicking area is not affected by the land claim.