Ron Merkel discusses the native title claim process, 2008

Transcript of interview

A native title case basically involves a traditional Aboriginal community establishing their continuing connection, in accordance with their traditional laws and customs, with the particular land, since European settlement, which in most states goes back to the early 1800s, so that what they have to prove is that connection, and the only way they can prove it is through oral histories, as well as what anthropologists have observed in written histories.

So the oral histories come from the Aboriginal community because that's the way in which they pass down traditional information about their connection with land. The other piece of evidence that's very important are the observations of anthropologists, which they record. But what they are recording is always an oral history because the Aboriginal people did not have a written language, so everything was passed down from time immemorial through oral histories from one generation to another.

It's the first time oral histories had a really significant legal outcome for Aboriginal people, so it was a fairly novel procedure in our Australian legal system to actually have Aboriginal people sit down in a court context, or even on country where a judge was hearing evidence, and just tell the stories that they had heard from when they were children, and how the elders tell those stories that had come down from their parents and their grandparents. There was a large number of Aboriginal people. They have been displaced by white settlement, by colonisation, by removal as children, which is part of the Stolen Generation, and as a result of that they've lost that intimate connection with land which is the foundation of native title.