Native title dispute determines future of mineral-rich land

A PUBLIC meeting almost 18 months ago is likely to prove the centre point of a complex and long-running native title dispute involving lucrative mineral-rich land in south-west Queensland.

The Federal Court in Brisbane will eventually be forced to consider which of two main Aboriginal groups are the traditional owners of the land.

The case has attracted the interest of resource companies with interests in the region, including gas producers Origin Energy, Santos, QGC and Australia Pacific LNG.

Coal miners Xstrata - which is developing massive projects nearby - have also formally shown an interest in the case.

This week, a preliminary hearing is outlining what each side do from here in the lead-up to a trial.

The court heard that in a now-contentious September 2011 meeting, members of the Mandandanji clan group came together and voted whether to accept the newly-discovered branch of the family into the clan.

These were descendants of a woman named Dolly Clark, understood to be a new first family link to the Mandandanji clan The meeting voted yes, convinced by an expert report researching the history of the families.

This meant the Mailman, Binge, Combarngo and Weribone families were now divided into two groups contesting the native title claim.

The Mailman and Combarngo group - who lodged the original application in 2008 - contend this meeting meant little to proceedings, while the Binge and Weribone families believe this showed a formalising of their link to the clan, adding credibility to their claim.

The legal team for the Mailman and Combarngo families told the court anthropology experts had since cast doubt on Ms Clark's link to the native title claim area.

Binge and Weribone's legal team disagree, contending there was no doubt the families had links to the area and were entitled to their claim.A trial date is yet to be set.