The Arabunna People

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MEDIA coverage of a sailing ban on South Australia's Lake Eyre has been "disrespectful" to the lake's native title claimants...


Lake Eyre coverage lacks respect for the Arabunna people, says lawyer


MEDIA coverage of a sailing ban on South Australia's Lake Eyre has been "disrespectful" to the lake's native title claimants, a lawyer for the group says.

Controversy over the ban arose after the commodore of the Lake Eyre yachting club Bob Backway called for boaters to risk fines and sail on the normally dry desert lake without a permit.

Mr Backway said the National Parks authority had halted sailing on Lake Eyre, filled by recent floodwaters, until permission was obtained from the lake's native title claimants, the Arabunna people.

The Arabunna people have refused sailing access to Lake Eyre, citing its spiritual significance.

Stephen Kenny, a lawyer for the Arabunna people who filed a native title claim on the waterway in 1998, says the controversy over the issue has been 'disrespectful'.

"Some media circles are appearing to take on a tone of disrespecting the culture of the Arabunna people," he told AAP today.


"It is a place of great significance to them and well documented and well known, and I am pleased the national park is recognising that in their actions."

A spokesman for National Parks said the yacht club had applied for a permit to sail on the lake and it was being assessed.

He said issues raised by the traditional owners of the land were part of the process undertaken in granting a permit.

Mr Kenny said National Parks' concerns was not related to the Arabunna's native title claim but the Aboriginal Heritage Act which calls for protection of sites of indigenous significance.

"Lake Eyre is a national park and for the yacht club to hold a regatta there they do need permission from National Parks and Wildlife...(who) know Lake Eyre is a significant site for the Arabunna people," he said.

"There is an Aboriginal Heritage Act in South Australia that allows Aboriginal people to protect their heritage, and it is an offence to do something that is detrimental to Aboriginal heritage."

"That is a separate issue, and that is what National Parks is concerned about, that the (sailing) activities could infringe (indigenous) spiritual beliefs."

Mr Kenny said native title only gave Aboriginal people formal recognition as traditional owners of the land and the right to negotiate with miners.

"Native title does not give Aboriginal people the right to exclude others from their land," he said.

"The tourists can still go there - they can't actually ban anyone from going to Lake Eyre."

Mr Kenny said he was confident the Arabunna's native title claim would be successful.

"I am bit frustrated that it has taken so long and hasn't happened earlier," he said.

"This is a very strong native title claim and I have every expectation that it will be decided by consent."

South Australian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Grace Portolesi told AAP that those who sailed on the waterway illegally could face penalties of up to $50,000 under the Aboriginal Heritage Act.