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The glacial progress of native title

By Graham Ring - posted Tuesday, 8 November 2005

Is there more satisfaction native title watching or gazing at glaciers? Both are pretty slow going, and in the end I reckon they’re both snow-jobs anyway.

Everyone needs a hobby. So over the last few years I’ve cultivated an interest in the arcane twists and turns of native title. I’d read somewhere it would deliver Indigenous land justice, so I found a suitable vantage point and settled down to watch.

Frankly, it hasn’t been as exciting as I’d hoped. The game seems to consist of long periods of inaction, punctuated by occasional flurries of colour and movement - after which nothing happens.


Now, I’m a red-blooded Aussie male. After the pizza has been delivered and I settle down on the couch with a coldie and the remote control, I want to see some thrills and spills. Native title just ain’t doing it for me any more. So my quest for action and adventure has driven me away from the Native Title Tribunal’s website into the arms of a far more reckless endeavour. I, dear reader, have been seduced by the high-speed action sport of glacier-watching.

The “Fluctuations of Glaciers” report - or ‘FoG’ as we aficionados know it - is prepared every five years by the World Glacier Monitoring Service so we can keep an eye on our favourite chunk of ice.

The publication’s objective is to “reproduce a global set of data which affords a general view of the changes, encourages more extensive measurements, and serves as a basis for research”. You’ll agree it’s pretty hard to resist that kind of racy talk.

“FoG VIII” for the years 1995-2000 is now available for download. But as you can imagine, most of us glacier-fanciers know it back-to-front by now. Nevertheless, the excitement at the imminent release of “FoG IX” is building to fever pitch.

I’m not the only one to succumb. I have it on good authority that native title watchers are turning in droves to the 21st century action-attraction of glacier-watching. Some of these babies gallop along at speeds approaching a metre a year. This is the kind of fast-paced action that native title promoters can only dream about.

Ministers - state, territory, and federal - with responsibility for native title met in Canberra on September 16 to do not very much. Naturally they issued a communiqué. This ground-breaking document called for “open communication and transparent procedures”, “appropriate consultation mechanisms”, “the resolution of claims by agreement” - and a bowl of apple-pie and ice-cream for all present. Hopefully these clichés are stored in the deep-freeze between outings. Half-way through the new decade, they are well past their use-by date, and very much on the nose.


People of goodwill were prepared to swallow these little bits of nonsense when the Native Title Act was in its infancy. But it’s all grown up now, and still won’t pull its weight. If it was a farm dog, the cocky would have shot it a long time ago.

A search of the Native Title Tribunal’s website shows that ten claimant applications lodged in 1994 are still active. The way a glacier is active presumably. If people had to wait this long for admission to hospital, former ministers-for-health all over the country would be propped up on their big, fat parliamentary pensions, wondering what became of their political careers.

True, the multi-million dollar native title machine grinds out the occasional Indigenous Land Use Agreement. And yes, these ILUA’s doubtless bring some economic benefits to Indigenous communities. But you don’t set up a factory to manufacture sports cars and then use the machinery to make billy-carts.

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Article edited by Geoffrey Zygier.
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First published in the National Indigenous Times on November 2005

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About the Author

Graham Ring is an award-winning writer and a fortnightly National Indigenous Times columnist. He is based in Alice Springs.

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