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Goolarabooloo fail in native title appeal

The Goolarabooloo people who opposed Woodside Petroleum’s now-abandoned $45 billion plan for a gas hub at James Price Point near Broome in Western Australia have failed in an appeal for native title rights.

The Goolarabooloo people appealed to the Full Court of the Federal Court after a single judge of the Federal Court ruled against them in May and instead said the area belonged to the Jabirr Jabirr people.

But in a unanimous ruling late last month, Federal Court judges Michael Barker, Melissa Perry and Natalie Charlesworth dismissed the Goolarabooloo appeal.

In the appeal, lawyers for the Goolarabooloo argued that the Jabirr Jabirr people’s native title over the area should be amended to recognise groups who have rayi connections, or ritual status, as native title holders.

The appeal was opposed by the Jabirr Jabirr, the State of WA and the Commonwealth Government.

In their judgement, the appeal judges said the original judge’s findings about the workings of northern traditions and the role of ritual leaders were important to making a decision on the appeal.

They said, “his Honour found that ritual leaders do not, as a result of this status alone, have native title rights and interests in the Jabirr Jabirr determination area”.

“In our opinion, the primary judge’s finding is strongly supported by the weight of the evidence from the Aboriginal witnesses and the nature of that evidence concerning the question of what rights or interests a ritual leader, who was not a traditional owner with descent based rights, possessed in Jabirr Jabirr country,” they said.

The battle over Woodside’s proposed gas hub divided Broome and led to long-running protests. The anti-hub campaign was backed by musicians such as John Butler and Missy Higgins.

While the hub was opposed by the Goolarabooloo, the Jabirr Jabirr people voted in favour of the industrial precinct and an Aboriginal benefits package worth more than $1.5 billion.

Woodside shelved plans for the controversial project in 2013.

By Wendy Caccetta

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