COOBER PEDY News & Events


Coober Pedy – Out of Sight – Out of Mind

In his annual Letter to the Editor of CPRT, Richard Abbott Licensed Surveyor outlines the failure of state governments and local government to protect residents of the opal mining town of Coober Pedy from financial and economic losses with respect to 9 years of halted development. Mr. Abbott believes that their inaction in progressing and finalising the Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) for the township will have consequences.

Dear Editor,

On May 11th 2020, it was NINE years since Justice Mansfield delivered the Native Title determination on the Coober Pedy Football Oval and said at the time that the parties requested that the Court determine the proceedings without a trial and that as all parties had worked well that an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) for the Coober Pedy township would soon follow on. Justice Mansfield stated in his Reasons for Judgment.

There is no reason to believe that the lack of representation of those unrepresented parties will have disadvantaged them such that a final determination should not be made.

People came from far and wide for the Determination in 2011. We heard that an ILUA would be agreed by claimants, State Government, and the Coober Pedy Council within 6 months of the determination.

The successive government’s failure to formerly finalise the implementation of the ILUA over the financial compensation for the Native Title Crown Land is preventing development of Crown Land within the township boundaries for the creation of public roads and creating freehold allotments for sale of sites for residential dugouts.

Notwithstanding the crippling employment opportunities for builders and tradies who are all now seriously denied local work income, together with the delay in formalising the proposed Public Roads over the short cut tracks. Sadly, these maintained tracks are still unable to attract government grant funding for their maintenance by Council but instead funded by rates.

Following the chance discovery of opal in 1915 and a hotchpotch development of mines and miner’s abodes the Stuarts Range Opal field was named Coober Pedy by The Progress and Miners Association formed in 1920 to manage the growth and development of the remote North Out of Hundreds mining field.

Remote mining field near Coober Pedy

The first recorded survey in 1921 in the existing township area was for a water conservation reserve and a hospital reserve were established followed by the creation of section 8, of approximately 500 acres for an aboriginal reserve and formal survey of the township boundary of one square mile, completed in 1959 the township of Coober Pedy Gazetted a decade later, on 27th March 1969.

In 1972, Kean carried out a survey for the surrendering of portion of Mount Clarence pastoral leases 2149 and 2182. Surveying a rectangle parcel around the original square mile of 8.35 kilometres east west and 8.05 kilometres north south that incorporated the airstrip and both the Aboriginal and Water Conservation Reserve.

Keane Reserve at Coober Pedy named after the 1972 Surveyor

As the residential hub was out of hundreds and therefore not considered to have rateable tenures and due to the state’s conventional method of disposing of surveyed township parcels that remained lease hold land then in 1988 the current local government Council was created. As the mining, health and welfare facilities grew to meet the needs of the opal miners and adjacent inhabitants, Coober Pedy became a rateable township.

While the Native Title Act states that township land owned by the Crown on 24th December 1996 is subject to a Native Title determination it must be known that South Australian Governments have always retained surveyed Crown land as lease hold land until the funds were paid by a purchaser to the Government for the parcel, when a free hold certificate of title was exchanged.

At the State Government Country Cabinet in November 2016 at Coober Pedy,
Richard Abbott took the opportunity to get into Attorney General John Rau’s ear over
Native Title issues at Coober Pedy

While the Coober Pedy township ILUA is conducted in secrecy between the governments of the day and the claimants I can deduce that his has resulted in a lengthy and costly search of every surveyed allotment within the Coober Pedy township boundaries. Then a further delay due to parties unable to agree over the land compensation rate, determined finally by the High Court for a Northern Territory Native Title claim.

Reading paragraph 56 of REASONS FOR JUDGEMENT There is some disagreement between the State and the applicant as to the effect of public works where notification has not occurred as required by the NT Act. If the issue arises at a later stage with regard to a particular public work, the liberty to apply provision in paragraph 21 will allow the issue to be aired before the Court for decision.

The definition for public works includes the creation of public roads that requires; surveying the area, marking the boundaries, preparing a certified survey road opening plan and publishing a public gazettal notice.

Given the procedure is identical for the creation of a government township (but substituting preparing a certified plan of the township boundary). Then if the public works definition included creation of a government township then Coober Pedy would not have this economic millstone.

Federal Court Judge, Justice John Mansfield AM, QC congratulates Native Title holder William Lennon Snr at the Determination held at Coober Pedy on 11 May 2011. Since this date the wheels of development have ground to a halt.

When the Native title judgement was made, nobody foresaw an unresolved Coober Pedy ILUA after 9 years since the determination. Especially when initially told an ILUA would be agreed by Claimants, State Government, and the Coober Pedy Council within 6 months of the determination.

The question must also be raised, that given the required secrecy of the compensation sought by the Claimants then surely the successive state Labor and Liberal government should be aware of the consequences of their inaction, as it will not be long before landowners and businesses will also be seeking financial compensation for the lengthy delay not covered in the Native Title Act.

Richard Abbott
Licensed Surveyor

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