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First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee Threshold Notification

Large red rivergum tree on the banks of the Murray RiverThe First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee are seeking to negotiate a Recognition and Settlement Agreement with the State of Victoria under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 (Vic).

The State is seeking to confirm that the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee Traditional Owner Group is the right Traditional Owner group for the proposed negotiation area, according to their traditional and cultural association to Country.

The Department of Justice and Regulation invites members of the wider Victorian Traditional Owner community to make submissions to it about whether:

  • the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee are the right Traditional Owner group for the proposed negotiation area
  • the group description of the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee includes all the Traditional Owners for the proposed negotiation area, and
  • all members of the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee have had a reasonable opportunity to participate in the Full Group decision to seek a negotiated Recognition and Settlement Agreement.

Submissions may be made by individual Traditional Owners, or by organisations representing Victorian Traditional Owner groups. Note that submissions may be referred to the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee Traditional Owner group and/or First Nations Legal & Research Services for their comment.

Submissions to the Native Title Unit, Department of Justice and Regulation, must be made by no later than the close of business on Friday 6 April 2018

Submissions may be:

For more information about the threshold notification process, go to the Threshold Guidelines

Proposed negotiation area of the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee

Background

The First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee first lodged a Part A Threshold Statement with the Department of Justice and Regulation of the State of Victoria in May 2016 and then lodged a further revised Part A Threshold Statement in November 2016. In May 2017, the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee provided further supplementary information regarding amendments to their group description.

In October 2015, prior to their lodgement of a Threshold Statement, the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee filed a native title determination application under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) in the Federal Court of Australia. The First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee’s legal representative, First Nations Legal & Research Services (formerly Native Title Services Victoria), communicated to the Federal Court in December 2015 the native title claim group’s intention to settle their native title application under Victoria’s Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 (Vic). The First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee receive legal and other assistance from First Nations Legal & Research Services.

The information compiled in this document has been jointly prepared by the Department of Justice and Regulation’s Native Title Unit and the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee. It is based on:

  • the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee Part A Threshold Statement, received by the Native Title Unit on 18 November 2016
  • the Native Title Unit’s evaluation of the Part A Threshold Statement, which was provided to the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee on 24 March 2017
  • subsequent correspondence and supplementary information provided by First Nations Legal & Research Services to the Native Title Unit on 29 May 2017 and on 17 August 2017, and
  • discussions between the Native Title Unit and the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee at a threshold conference held on 25 August 2017 in Mildura.

Description and basis of the Traditional Owner Group

Group description

The First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee have developed the following description of how they define their group, by way of membership criteria.

The criteria for membership of the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee group are a combination of descent and other social factors as follows:

  • 1. descent through either parent from any of the apical ancestors: John and Nelly Perry, Elizabeth Johnson, or Archibald Pepper and Jessie Mayne, and
  • 2. activation of inherited rights as a Traditional Owner through:
    •  self-identifying as a First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee person by asserting to be a First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee person, and
    •  having an active association and familiarity with First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee country and the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee community, which is demonstrated by factors including:
      •  being born or raised on First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee country or being born into or raised within the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee community
      • taking an active role in corporate or other entities that represent First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee interests
      • taking part in group activities and events (such as meetings)
      • residing on and being familiar with First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee country, or
      • participating in the transmission of First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee knowledge to younger generations and other Traditional Owner groups, and
  • 3. recognition and acceptance by other First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee people as a member of the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee.

Process for inclusion of additional family groups

The First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee are open to the inclusion of additional family groups. In addition to the above criteria for recognition, a family group must demonstrate to the Full Group of the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee their connection to the proposed negotiation area by addressing the following:

  • descent from a traditional/apical ancestor associated with the area, acknowledging that the available evidence regarding the association of Traditional Owners with the area is incomplete and confusing
  • connection to the broader Central Murray Riverine Traditional Owner society which includes connection to other family groups both in the past and now, and
  • connection to country, including identifying where each family’s interests in country lie and their association to that country.

The steps for new family groups to apply to join First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee are:

  • The applying family group must present information to a Full Group meeting addressing the criteria for membership as above.
  • Each First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee family group meets separately to consider the information presented.
  • Each First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee family group presents their response back to the Full Group.
  • The Full Group makes a decision on whether or not to amend the group description to include the applying family group.

The above criteria must be applied fairly to all family groups who seek membership of the group. This process was demonstrated at a Full Group meeting held on the 25 March 2017. By decision of the Full Group, the Traditional Owner group description was amended to include Archibald Pepper and Jessie Mayne as apical ancestors, and their descendant family group were approved as members of the Traditional Owner group, and eligible to apply to be members of the First People of the Millewa-Mallee Aboriginal Corporation.

Summary of the basis for the group description

The basis for the Traditional Owner group description comes from the findings of research undertaken by First Nations Legal & Research Services (both historical and anthropological), as well as the collective decision-making of the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee.

The research conducted by First Nations Legal & Research Services confirms that there is a Central Murray Riverine society or cultural bloc, whose wider territory runs generally from around Gunbower downstream to Morgan in South Australia. Family groups who make up the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee may identify with particular language groups, but language affinity does not define their shared identity.

Contemporary First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee Traditional Owners know their identity and country because their parents and grandparents before them passed this knowledge on to them. Family plays a central role in keeping alive culture and identity. First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee families carry with them their links to earlier generations and their own ways of holding knowledge about ancestry and culture.

Research conducted by First Nations Legal & Research Services confirms that the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee family groups are direct descendants of ancestors with connection to the area. Knowledge of apical ancestors was passed on to researchers at First Nations Legal & Research Services by descendants of those apical ancestors whose families maintained their connection to country throughout colonisation.

The group affirms from their own knowledge, and the research attests, that ancestors and subsequent generations of Aboriginal people who form the Central Murray Riverine society or cultural bloc were profoundly impacted by European colonisation, including rapid depopulation from the 1830s to the 1880s and loss of freedom of movement, with people forced onto reserves. Groups of the Central Murray River region were forced to adapt their sociocultural systems to new circumstances and contingencies, allowing for survival of law and custom in an altered form that retains a fundamental pre-colonial logic. Many Aboriginal people who survived the period of first contact and subsequent colonial expansion either stayed within the region, forming new communities along the river, or maintained connections with those communities. It is from those newer communities that the current aggregations of Aboriginal people have emerged, with a distinctly Riverine identity.

First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee assert they and their forebears have maintained continuous connection to the proposed negotiation area from the initial period of colonisation up to the present. The group currently consists of four family groups descended from an apical ancestor identified within the ethno-historic record and remembered in the oral history of family group members. Two family groups are descended from John and Nelly Perry, one from Elizabeth Johnson and one from Archibald Pepper and Jessie Mayne. However, as families grow and change over time, the number of family groups of the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee may also grow and change in the future.

Sarah, Annie, Lena and Carrie Perry were the daughters of John Perry and Emily/Nelly. Their descendants are prominent throughout the Central and Lower Murray Riverine. The Perry family members are connected through resident communities, marriage and social networks with many of the other families from the Central Murray region. The descendants of Elizabeth Johnson are also widely recognised throughout the Central Murray and are particularly associated with the country in and around Neds Corner, Victoria. Jessie Mayne and Archibald Pepper married in 1881 and had several children. Their descendants have maintained traditional association with the Central Murray Riverine region.

The family groups of the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee have settled on a group description through a clearly constructed process which they have allowed researchers and lawyers from First Nations Legal & Research Services to document. This process started out as a conversation between family groups asserting their rights and interests in the proposed negotiation area. Each family group has spoken of their ancestors, history and cultural association with the other member families and have been confirmed in their connection to country by the collective decision-making of the Full Group. Each family group and each individual member is descended from one of the named apical ancestors, and is recognised as a part of the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee ‘community’. The First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee have agreed that the membership criteria provided above should be met by all persons who seek membership of the group, and of the corporation. The group endorsed the group description at a Full Group meeting on 30 April 2016. Amendments to the group description, allowing for inclusion of additional ancestors and the fourth family group, were agreed at a Full Group meeting on 25 March 2017.

The First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee have developed and followed a consistent process with clear criteria to publicly define their cultural identity. European colonisation did not sever the ties that the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee and their descendants maintain with country. First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee have a living and adaptive culture, learned from their forebears and passed on to successive generations.

Description and basis of the proposed negotiation area

Area description

The external boundary of the proposed negotiation area is depicted on the accompanying map, and can be described as follows:

Commencing at the intersection of the centreline of the Mallee Highway and the border between South Australia and Victoria, the external boundary extends generally northerly along that border to the intersection with the southern bank of the Murray River. It then extends easterly along the southern bank of the Murray River, being the border between New South Wales and Victoria, to its intersection with a line extending due east from the intersection of the centrelines of Hards Road and Barko Road (approximate latitude 34.422151° South). It then extends to the west along that line to that intersection and then generally westerly along the centreline of Hards Road to its intersection with Iraak Lake Road, and then generally westerly along the centreline of that road (being on the southern and western side of Lake Iraak) to its intersection with the Kulkyne Way, and then south easterly along the centreline of Kulkyne Way to its intersection with Birkins Road. It then extends generally westerly and generally south westerly along the centreline of that road to the Calder Highway. The external boundary then extends generally southerly, along the centreline of the Calder Highway to its intersection with the Mallee Highway at Ouyen, and then generally westerly, along the centreline of the Mallee Highway back to the commencement point.

The neighbours of the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee are as follows. The proposed negotiation area is bounded in the south by the Indigenous Land Use Agreement boundary arising from the 2005 native title consent determination of the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagulk Peoples. The proposed negotiation area is bounded in the west by the border with South Australia and includes the eastern boundary of the First Peoples of the River Murray and Mallee Region’s 2011 native title consent determination inside South Australia: Traditional Owners from this group are part of the same Central Murray Riverine society as the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee. In the north, the proposed negotiation area is bounded by the Murray River, which forms the border between Victoria and New South Wales. This is also the southern boundary of the 2015 consent determination of the Barkandji and Malyangapa People in New South Wales.

Summary of the basis of the area

The basis for putting forward the area for settlement negotiations comes from the findings of research undertaken by First Nations Legal & Research Services (both historical and anthropological), as well as the collective decision-making of the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee.

More broadly the research supports that the proposed negotiation area sits within the wider area of the larger Central Murray Riverine cultural bloc, but that what makes it specific to this particular Traditional Owner group is that it is the country over which the group membership can demonstrate specific and enduring association, based on the knowledge of Elders and the knowledge handed down by forebears.

First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee have strong spiritual ties to the country of their ancestors. Oral information has been passed down from ancestors relating to customs and traditions (language, dance, ceremony, clothing, bush food collection) and is taught to children.

First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee country holds heritage sites, story places and Dreaming trails that are a record of the creation of country and the activities of ancestors. Cultural sites and places in traditional First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee country are a direct link between contemporary First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee people and their ancestors who created and cared for those places over millennia.

The Full Group’s decision-making regarding the extent of the proposed negotiation area was exercised in various meetings, including on 23 May 2015 when the native title determination application filed in the Federal Court of Australia was authorised. The area remained the same when in later meetings the Full Group endorsed the Part A Threshold Statement: on 5 November 2016 and again on 25 March 2017.

A summary of the research process

The First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee Part A Threshold Statement describes that research has been undertaken with the current group since 2012, with a view to making a native title claim under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) and seeking a Recognition and Settlement Agreement under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 (Vic).

Initially this involved reviewing available historical research, such as in reports prepared for previous matters in the north-west of Victoria that have since been discontinued, including native title claims made by the Robinvale Aboriginal Community, the North West Nations, the Latji Latji Wergaia and the Latji Latji Peoples. These prior claims comprised various configurations and models of society, argued at different times since 1996.

A further phase of research from August 2013 to June 2014 considered native title connection as well as association to country and information about apical ancestors, which was informed by the Traditional Owners who came forward. It examined ethno-historical information about the historical experiences of the north-west Victorian Traditional Owners and the Central Murray Riverine society or cultural bloc as a whole. This included consideration of primary and secondary source material from, or about, early settlement, the ‘protection era’, the welfare era between roughly the 1920s and 1950s, and the subsequent ‘assimilation era’. It considered social adaptations across those times and the persistence of ‘families of polity’ and their associations with country, as specific to the family group putting itself forward. Research findings were presented to, and discussed at, Full Group meetings held on 23-24 March 2013, 5-6 April 2014, 6-7 December 2014, 23 May 2015, 29 April 2016 and 5 November 2016, together with First Nations Legal & Research Services staff members Dr Michael O’Kane (PhD), Senior Anthropologist, and Katrina Hodgson (MA (Public History)), Senior Historian.

Research conducted by First Nations Legal & Research Services identified ‘families of polity’ with ‘jural capacity’. The research strategy was multi-disciplinary. It explored the complexities and intricacies of the lived experience of the families of the study area, and was informed by both anthropological and historical analysis. The methodology employed historical analysis to inform the development of the anthropological perspective. The research team sought to develop an understanding of the social structures of the people of the study area and how these structures have been adapted to new circumstances, while retaining fundamental principles that allow for the inter-generational transmission of culture and identity and the continued descent of rights and interests to and on country. This approach seeks to address the transitioning of society and culture alongside the maintenance of continuity and connection.

A broad description of the Full Group decision-making process

The institution of ‘Eldership’ is well recognised throughout the Central Murray Riverine society of which the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee are a part. Each family group with whom the First Nations Legal & Research Services research team engaged uniformly reported that it is their Elders who lead them in family business and decision-making. The decision-making process that the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee follow is regarded by the group as a whole as being in accordance with their shared traditional law and custom and reflective of their views and aspirations.

Making decisions as a Full Group is consequently a collective process: each family group will discuss and engage with topic matter to arrive at a family group conclusion. This outcome is then disseminated to the Full Group via the relevant family group Elder. The function of the Elder, in this sense, is to consult with the broader family group and seek their direction.

For formal decisions, the Full Group adopts a process whereby each family group is entitled to one vote, subsequent to the internal-family discussion described above. The First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee have consistently adopted this process at their meetings, including for the purposes of making decisions regarding their Part A Threshold Statement. The Part A Threshold Statement was endorsed by the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee using this decision making process, at a Full Group meeting held on 5 November 2016.

In line with good governance procedures, records or minutes of each meeting are kept as a summary record of the discussion about each issue raised, and to record the resolutions passed.

Engagement with neighbouring Traditional Owner groups

In the course of developing the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee native title claim and their 2016 Part A Threshold Statement, First Nations Legal & Research Services placed advertisements in local newspapers and in the Koori Mail, and sent notifications to persons on its mailing list, to invite all those who wished to assert native title interests in the area to attend key meetings.

First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee have engaged with Barengi Gadjin Land Council Aboriginal Corporation, the First Peoples of the River Murray and Mallee Region in South Australia, and the Barkandji and Malyangapa People in New South Wales, advising of their aspirations for a settlement agreement under Victoria’s Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 (Vic).

 

Contacts for further information

Contact person for the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee:

Ellen Maybery
Lawyer, First Nations Legal & Research Services
12-14 Leveson Street (PO Box 431) North Melbourne VIC 3051
t: (03) 9321 5300 | m: 0428 949 358 | Toll Free: 1800 791 779 | f: (03) 9326 4075| ellen.maybery@fnlrs.com.au

Contact person for First Nations Legal & Research Services, for general enquiries and assistance:

Dr Tim Pilbrow
Research Manager, First Nations Legal & Research Services
12-14 Leveson Street (PO Box 431) North Melbourne VIC 3051
t: (03) 9321 5336 | m: 0407 532 887 | Toll Free: 1800 791 779 | f: (03) 9326 4075 | tim.pilbrow@fnlrs.com.au

Contact person for the Native Title Unit, Department of Justice and Regulation, for general enquiries:

Anoushka Lenffer
Manager Policy and Research, Native Title Unit, Department of Justice and Regulation
121 Exhibition Street Melbourne VIC 3000
t: (03) 8684 7520
anoushka.lenffer@justice.vic.gov.au

For further information about Registered Aboriginal Parties:

Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council
t: 03 8392 5392
VAHC@dpc.vic.gov.au
Aboriginal Victoria website (external link)

For further information about native title:

National Native Title Tribunal Victoria (Melbourne Office)
Level 10, Commonwealth Law Courts
305 William Street Melbourne VIC 3000
t: (03) 9920 3000 | Toll free: 1800 640 501 | f: 8 9425 1193
enquiries@nntt.gov.au


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Author: Department of Justice and Regulation
Publisher: Department of Justice and Regulation
Date of Publication: 2018
Copyright: State of Victoria, 2018.

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The department acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the Traditional Custodians of the land and acknowledges and pays respect to their Elders, past and present.