Land returned to Eastern Maar people in Victoria’s first native title decision in a decade

Victoria’s first native title determination in a decade has been made, returning rights to a stretch of land – including parts of the coastline of the Great Ocean Road – to the Eastern Maar peoples in the state’s south-west.

The federal court’s decision on Tuesday covers land stretching from Ararat to Warrnambool, and includes much of the coastline of the Great Ocean Road and the Great Otway national park.

It recognises the traditional owners’ rights to access, use and protect the land in line with their laws and customs, along with the right to be consulted on plans to develop the land and its natural resources.

Eastern Maar is a name adopted by people who identify as Maar, Eastern Gunditjmara, Djab Wurrung, Peek Whurrong, Kirrae Whurrung, Kuurn Kopan Noot or Yarro Waetch.

At a ceremony on Logans beach near Warrnambool, Djab Wurrung man and lawyer Jidah Clark said it was a momentous occasion.

“Some would say this is sort of 25 years in the making, others would say it’s 100-plus years in the making,” Clark said. “The seeds of justice are finally starting to blossom.”

Clark said justice was a big part of reconciliation in Australia.

“We should be immensely proud as a nation of people, but also as a state and as a jurisdiction, about the bold and the ambitious agenda that’s been run here in Victoria more broadly in the treaty process,” he said.

The last native title decision in the state recognised the Dja Dja Wurrung people as the traditional owners for part of central Victoria in 2013.

The Victorian minister for treaty and First Peoples, Gabrielle Williams, said all Australians would benefit from recognising First Nations peoples’ connection to country and culture.

“As a non-Aboriginal Australian, I’m so very proud of the connection that our first peoples have with this country. And so very grateful for their generosity and sharing that with us,” she said.

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Williams said the decision sat within a broader context of treaty, truth-telling and the proposed national Indigenous voice to parliament.

“All of these things are geared towards one outcome and that is achieving better outcomes for our First Nations people,” she said.

“We know better outcomes are achieved for First Nations people when we put our First Nations people in control of their own affairs.”

The National Native Title Council’s chief executive, Gundjitmara Djabwurrung man Jamie Lowe, said some Indigenous Victorians had been fighting for their native title claims since the act was introduced in 1993.

“We’ve fought hard to survive and we’ve done that, and this is testament to that recognition that our people, the Maar people, have been here forever,” Lowe said.

“It’s a bit of a point in time, a point in history that our people are being recognised, and … on the national landscape, this will be heard.”