Martu win back their land

November 17, 2003

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Half a century after being driven from their land, the Martu Aborigines in Western Australia have finally won recognition of their ownership of most of their ancestral land.

The Martu are the Aboriginal people of the western side of the Gibson desert. They first came into sustained contact with white people when surveyors passed through their land opening up 'stock routes' to drive cattle across the desert. Later, in the 1950s and early 1960s, part of their land was taken over for the testing of Britain's 'Blue Streak' ballistic missile programme. At this time it was Australian government policy to relocate forcibly the Aborigines from their traditional areas in the deserts and resettle them in government camps and missions on the desert fringes.

In the 1980s the Martu began to return to their desert homes in a trend known as the 'homelands movement'. Survival supported them in this project, and funded the construction of water boreholes for the establishment of new communities in the desert. Two of these new communities – Punmu and Parnngurr – are now thriving. Now the Martu have won recognition of their ownership of most of their traditional lands, in the form of 'native title'. This is the first judgment of its kind in Western Australia, and marks an important breakthrough for the region's Aboriginal peoples.

The critically-acclaimed Australian film Rabbit-Proof Fence tells the true story of three Martu girls of the stolen generations. The UK premiere of the film was held in aid of Survival in November 2002. Afterwards, the audience heard from Doris Pilkington Garimara, author of the book on which the film was based and daughter of one of the principal characters. She spoke of her own experiences of being stolen from her family, and thanked Survival for its work with her people.

Photos available to the press: for more information contact Miriam Ross (+44) (0)20 7687 8734 or email [email protected]

Aboriginal peoples