Native Title

Native title has been acknowledged as part of the common law of Australia since 1992, and has been regulated by stature since 1994. It describes the rights held by the Aboriginal people and the Torres Strait Islanders, in relation to land or waters that arise under the traditional laws and customs. “Native Title” can encompass a very diverse set of rights. It includes the right to traverse land. It may include comprehensive rules relating to subsistence, ceremonial access, and control rights. Generally no two sets of native title rights will be the same; the rights they confer, depends on their content on the traditional laws and customs of the relevant Aboriginal group. Theoretically, native title can exist in relation to lands and waters, including lakes, rivers, bays, and the open sea.

For native title to exist in particular area today, a number of conditions have to be satisfied. There has to be an identifiable group of Aboriginal people inhabiting the claim area with traditional laws and customs giving them rise to native title rights at the time, there must be an unbroken chain of inheritance or succession, in accordance with Aboriginal laws and customs giving rise to the native title must have been observed and recognised continuously during that period, and there must have been an event that has the effect of extinguishing the native title rights, such as valid freehold grant, or valid extinguishing legislation.

The Burrup represents a unique native title situation as the recognised original Indigenous people of the area, the Yaburara, were believed to be mostly massacred during the European settlement phase. This resulted in what is referred to as the “Flying Foam Massacre”. The Burrup was then recognised as an “orphan land” by the neighbouring Indigenous groups and as such, these groups took over custodial duties for the area.

To read more about the Yaburara massacre click here to be taken to an article on the Dampier Rock Art’s Website

Ngarluma Yindjibarndi peoples native title rights were recognised by the Federal Court at Roebourne on May 2nd 2005. This determination covered an area of 24,428 square kilometres of land and sea in the Pilbara including the Burrup region, the towns of Roebourne and Karratha and the Shires of Ashburton and Roebourne. For more information about this Native Title determination click here.


Aboriginal Languages

There are 31 Aboriginal languages in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Many of these languages have between 2 and 5 dialects. All of these languages have sounds that are not heard in English. All languages are written using the same letters as the English language, but some letters say a different sound when read.

Some of the sounds found in the Pilbara languages are the same as those found in English. They are:

  • j as in ‘jar’
  • l as in ‘lad’
  • m as in ‘man’
  • n as in ‘nod’
  • r as in ‘run’
  • w as in ‘win’
  • y as in ‘yes’

Some sounds are similar to English, but not quite the same. Some sounds are “voiced” such as b, d, g, and some sounds are unvoiced such as p, t, and k. Most Pilbara languages use a sound somewhere between the “voiced” and “unvoiced” sounds. For example, a sound may be not quiet voiced g and not quite an “unvoiced” k. So Pilbara languages had to choose where to use p, t, k or b, do, g to represents these sounds.

All Pilbara languages share a set of vowels. Most languages have three vowel sounds represented by the letters a, I and u, and many also have a set of three long vowel sounds represented by the corresponding letters aa, ii, and uu. These vowels sounds do not ever change, as in the English language, and always represent the same sound:

  • short a sounds like the vowel in ‘rug’
  • short i sounds like the vowels in ‘jeep’
  • short u sounds like the vowel in ‘put’
  • long aa sounds like the vowels in ‘cart’
  • long ii sounds like the vowels in ‘beef’
  • long uu sounds like the vowels in ‘cook’ but held slightly longer.

Some of the sounds found in Pilbara languages are only found in one or two English words, such as:

  • ly sound found in the word million
  • ny sound found in the word onion
  • ng sound found in the word song
  • th found in the word thin

Some sounds found in Pilbara Indigenous languages are not found in Standard Australian English at all and have to be learnt to be said, such as:

  • rr as the Scottish would say the sound in ‘bairn’
  • rd as Americans would say ‘third’
  • rl as Americans would say ‘girl’
  • rt/rd as Americans would say ‘hard’
  • rn as Americans would say ‘barn’
  • nh like an n but with the tongue pressed against the top, back front teeth
  • dh like the English th but said shorter, closer to a d sound
  • th like an l but with the tongue pressed against the front teeth
  • yh like a y sound but more like ‘ya’

Pilbara languages were always oral and are currently being recorded, analysed and written down to preserve them. Many are highly endangered with seven being extinct. The current status of the five MAC member groups language is:

  • Yaburara is an extinct language. This means there are no speakers and no one remembers the language.
  • Ngarluma is an endangered language
  • Yindjibarni is an endangered language
  • Mardudhunera is a highly endangered language
  • Wong- Goo-Tt-Oo is not a language but a recognised group of Ngarluma

For further detailed information on each of the languages, click the link below to be taken to Wangka Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre’s website.