Native title claimants have won rights over a 10,000sqkm area in the resource-rich Pilbara after a 15-year fight for recognition was brought to an end yesterday by a Federal Court judgment.
The court decision recognises the native title held by the Banjima people.
The group's rights will co-exist with iron ore mining tenements held by operators including BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Hancock Prospecting and Fortescue Metals Group.
The claim, first lodged in 1998 and covering an area extending from Tom Price in the west towards the town of Newman in the east, went to litigation with the State Government two years ago.
The decision will not extinguish the rights granted by mining tenements or pastoral leases but it may result in changes to some negotiations with the region's iron ore miners. Karijini National Park is not included in the claim, which covers the closed asbestos mining town of Wittenoom.
Banjima elder Alec Tucker described the judgment as a "joyous day".
"We've been looking forward to this for a long time," Mr Tucker said. "We know it's Banjima country. It's my grandfather's country, my father's country. I think the old people would be happy about today."
Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Simon Hawkins said it was disappointing one of the Pilbara's strongest cultural groups had been forced into a trial.
"The State Government needs to stop waging expensive legal battles and take a more collaborative approach," he said.
Mr Hawkins said he hoped the decision would pave the way for other claims in the Pilbara to be resolved by consent.Attorney-General Michael Mischin said the State did not take matters to court unless there were genuine disputes and there had initially been two competing native title applicants over the area.