Ruling for natives

according to a court judgement, almost 80 per cent of Australia's land could be subject to claims by aborigines. The Wik people of north Queensland had claimed title to pastoral land leased to white farmers in 1915. The court decided by a narrow majority in favour of the Wik people saying that pastoral leases and native title could co-exist. That judgement went further than a High Court ruling of 1992, known as the Mabo case, which established that aborigines had the right to claim native title to traditional lands, something never recognised before. But when the Australian Parliament enshrined Mabo in the Native Title Act, it excluded pastoral leases from native title claims. The Wik judgement has thrown the issue wide open again. It applies to those swathes of outback Australia where pastoral leases were created in colonial times to allow farming on properties the size of small European countries. These lands were the frontline for the dispossession of Australia's original inhabitants by white settlers. Now, after more than 200 years in which the European concept of single title over land had been assumed, Australians are having to confront the prospect of shared title.