The Commission’s Approach to Recognition

891. Claims for Recognition of Hunting, Fishing and Gathering Rights. Although, questions of hunting, foraging and fishing rights remain of considerable importance in some areas, the Commission has had only a limited number of verbal or written comments or submissions on these questions. During the public hearing at Port Augusta there were complaints that pastoralists were trying to keep Aboriginal people off their land contrary to the reservations in their pastoral leases, though it was stated that no charges had been laid under wildlife provisions.[1510] In Cairns complaints were made about commercial fishermen taking dugong in their nets, while non-reserve Aborigines were not able to take dugong[1511] and it was argued that hunting and fishing rights are indigenous rights.[1512] The question of dugong hunting was also raised at Rockhampton.[1513] On the North Coast of NSW the Commission was told that two men had been charged with killing wallabies for food and that 95% of Aboriginal people on the north coast are unemployed, resulting in heavy reliance on bush tucker for food.[1514] At Aurukun there were allegations that commercial fishermen had placed nets over the mouths of the rivers, fished up the rivers and interfered with sacred sites.[1515] At Doomadgee there were concerns about restrictions on the hunting of goanna.[1516] Further requests for recognition and protection of hunting and fishing rights were raised in Kowanyama, Edward River, Weipa, Aurukun, Lockhart River, and Mornington Island.[1517] The Tasmanian Legal Service pointed out that mutton bird hunters were in breach of the law if they did not obtain a licence, that even where the licence was obtained bag numbers were unrealistic, and that trespass laws conflicted with customary laws.[1518] Requests for recognition have also been made in other forums. The Makarrata demands put forward by the National Aboriginal Conference claimed among other things:

7. The rights to hunting, fishing and gathering on all lands and waterways under the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth of Australia.

22. Timber rights to all forests and timbered areas within Aboriginal territories, including all waterways.[1519]

Increased involvement for Torres Strait Islanders in matters affecting fishing in the Torres Strait has been sought by the Queensland branch of the National Aboriginal Conference.[1520] A State Land Rights Meeting held in Sydney in September 1983 called for New South Wales fisheries and conservation legislation to be amended to accord with traditional hunting and fishing interests.[1521] Sea closure applications and submissions to the Western Australian Aboriginal Land Inquiry also raised the question of Aboriginal hunting and fishing rights:

Claims to hunt and fish were made by Aboriginal groups living in the agricultural areas of the South West of the State. Some South West Aboriginal people claim the right to have access to farmland for kangaroo hunting and to pick wildflowers. They want access for the same purposes to fauna reserves and national parks. In the Geraldton area they wish to have access to local stations to do such things as shooting wild goats. In some areas there is complaint that there are farmers who will not give Aborigines permission to shoot kangaroos for food on farms when the same farmers will give permission to professional kangaroo shooters for profit. One South West Aboriginal described how only forty years ago his father supported the family by hunting and fishing in the Brookton area. The expansion of the farmed areas of the South West has ended those possibilities.[1522]

892. The Significance of these Issues. The significance of bush and sea food to many Aboriginal communities both in terms of diet, lifestyle and customary laws and practices, which is clear from the material cited in this Chapter, is strong support for the appropriate recognition of hunting, fishing and gathering rights. Much of the material cited is based on observations and reports of experience in the more remote communities and there are dangers of generalisation. This point was emphasised by the National Farmers Federation.[1523] It is true that for other Aborigines, hunting and gathering may not take on such significance, either in terms of diet or of maintaining traditional ways of life. Hunting or fishing may be, for some, a recreational activity and a chance to enjoy particular foods. Further attention will be given to. the diversity of Aboriginal lifestyles and the relative importance of traditional hunting and fishing activities in Chapter 36.

893. Relationship with Land Rights. As pointed out in Chapter 11,[1524] issues of the grant of land rights (and seabed rights) have been treated as outside the scope of this report. The Commission does not seek to duplicate work being done by other Commonwealth or State bodies or commissions of inquiry. Given the extent of this activity, issues of land rights, including customary law rights to land and the seabed, have not been directly dealt with in this Report. The question is what implications this has for the treatment of traditional hunting, fishing and gathering rights. It is possible that the grant of land or sea-bed by the Commonwealth and/or State Parliaments will resolve some of the significant claims to those rights. Certainly, it is not possible to ignore land rights legislation in any examination of, or recommendations for resolving, such claims. But, as the review of Australian legislation in Chapter 35 will show, important aspects of the topic are not, and cannot be, resolved through land rights legislation, particularly for those Aborigines who can no longer demonstrate traditional attachment to a particular area of land. The relations between land rights and hunting, fishing and gathering rights may well influence the form the Commission’s recommendations can take, but they do not prevent consideration of the questions in the context of the present Reference.