Celebrations may be heard around Victoria’s iconic coastline as more than 8,500 square kilometres of land have been handed back to the people of the Eastern Maar nation.


On Tuesday, Eastern Maar families welcomed federal judges to Country as part of an official ceremony to recognise native title. A temporary courtroom was set up, situated on a clifftop at the end of the Great Ocean Road in Warrnambool.

This is Victoria’s first successful native title determination in ten years, and the state’s fifth ever. The decision acknowledges the Eastern Maar people’s ongoing connection and intrinsic relationship with the land.

Gundjitmara Djabwurrung man and CEO of the National Native Title Council Jamie Lowe described the ceremony as ‘emotional,’ and ‘a huge occasion’.

‘It’s a humbling moment when you think about our Old People who have passed,’ he told NITV.

 Mr Lowe also highlighted how important it was that young people saw the handback.

‘[It’s important] for them to recognise that their culture is alive and strong. Projecting into the future it’s a platform they can build off,’ he said.

What does the claim include?

Eastern Maar encompasses people who identify as Maar, Eastern Gunditjmara, Yarro Waetch, Kirrae Whurrung, Djab Wurrung, Peek Whurrong or Kuurn Kopan Noot.

The area is nearly the size of Melbourne, encompassing over 100km of coastline along the Great Ocean Road, including the world-famous 12 Apostles, as well as much of the Great Otway National Park. It stretches from Cape Paton in the east, north up to the outskirts of Ararat, and west all the way to Penthurst.


Raging Rapids \\ Waterfalls Of The Great Otway National Park, Kate Bradley, Hopetoun Falls from ground level, long exposure

Hopetoun Falls in the Great Otway National Park | photo by Kate Bradley

What does ‘Native Title’ mean?

Native title recognises the rights of Traditional Owners to access and use their land, as well as to protect it in accordance with traditional law and custom.

This means the Eastern Maar people have an officially recognised right to be consulted on the development and use of their land and its natural resources, allowing them to preserve and protect places of cultural significance.

Native title rights are not exclusive, sitting alongside the broader community’s rights to enjoy these places too.

Victorian Minister for Treaty and First Peoples Gabrielle Williams said, ‘Through this court hearing today Eastern Maar Peoples are assured of their rights under Australian law to protect their native title long into the future’. 

‘This hearing honours the deep cultural significance that Country holds for Eastern Maar People and empowers them to manage and protect Country in accordance with the law and customs.’

‘As a non-Aboriginal Australian, I’m so very proud of the connection that our first peoples have with this country. And so very grateful for their generosity and sharing that with us,’ Ms Williams said.

How can Aboriginal Communities be considered for native title?

To be considered for a native title claim, Aboriginal Australians must be able to display an unbroken continuation of culture reaching back to pre-colonisation. This sets an incredibly high bar, and one which Eastern Maar people have proudly cleared.

Mr Lowe said some Aboriginal Victorians have been fighting for their native title claims since the act was introduced in 1993.

‘The time to get determination of Native Title is extreme. All the original [Eastern Maar] applicants have passed away, which is a story that’s all too familiar with people running native title claims,’ he told NITV.

‘There’s a lot of conjecture around native title and what it does and doesn’t deliver.’ 

‘But what it does say is that our people have been here forever, and now that’s an Australian law. That, if nothing else, is hugely significant,’ he said.

 Gulidjan woman and family representative, Ebony Hickey told NITV, ‘You couldn’t be a surviving people without the strength and determination that came from our Old People’.

‘That lives on within us. It’s who we are and who we’ll continue to be,’ she said. 

Victoria is looking to strengthen its relationship between Traditional Owners and the State when Treaty negotiations begin later this year.


Feature photo by @kieranstoneau