Department of Anthropology

Claiming Inheritance: Aboriginal People, Native Title and Cultural Heritage: a Story from Dubbo, New South Wales

By Helena Onnudottir


In 1992, the Mabo (No. 2) ruling introduced the term 'native title' as one appropriate to the situation of Australian Aborigines' claims to rights over lands they regard as theirs by tradition, and where entitlement to land was in accordance with traditional laws and customs. The term 'native title' became a legally recognised concept, at Australian common law, with the introduction of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) (NTA 1993 (Cth)). Since its introduction, the Act has undergone certain crucial amendments, which Aboriginal leaders have described as detrimental to the success of native title claims in many parts of Australia. This thesis explores the historical, legal, political and social context of native title claims in New South Wales, through the experiences of the Aboriginal people of Dubbo.

Particular emphasis is placed on the political and legal processes which constructed the current social and historical context of the lives of Aboriginal people in Dubbo. The discussion focuses on the impact of political and ideological changes on Aboriginal affairs in Australian in the last few decades, and specifically upon the social and political organisation of the Aboriginal community of Dubbo. It explores the avenues that are available for Aboriginal people (New South Wales) for claiming native title in today's social, legal and political climate. Furthermore, it focuses on the routes that the Aboriginal people of Dubbo have chosen to take in their attempts to gain rights to, and authority over, local Aboriginal heritage.