1.     The High Court case of Northern Territory v Mr A Griffiths (decd) and Lorraine Jones obh of Ngaliwurru and Nungali Peoples (2019) 269 CLR 1 (Timber Creek) remains the authority on the correct approach to resolving native title compensation claims in accordance with s 51 of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) (NTA).

2.     The approach adopted by the High Court involves identifying economic and non-economic components of native title compensation. The latter was described by the High Court as cultural loss, and accounted for $1.3 million of the compensation awarded to the Ngaliwurru and Nungali Peoples.

3.     While the Timber Creek decision sets out the components of native title compensation required by the NTA, it leaves many questions open regarding how to value cultural loss. Amongst other things, this paper aims to suggest how the principles in Timber creek might be used as a guide to evidence and assess cultural loss.

4.     Currently there are 15 active native title compensation claims in Australia: 11 in Western Australia, two in the Northern Territory, one in Queensland and one in New South Wales. There have been four successful determinations of native title: two in South Australia, one in the Northern Territory and one in New South Wales.[1]

5.     As some preliminary observations about the trends in native title compensation claims since Timber Creek, we note:

a.     There hasn’t been an immediate uptake of native title compensation applications since the first consent determination by De Rose v State of South Australia [2013] FCA 988 (De Rose Hill), nor since the High Court’s decision in Timber Creek.

b.     Western Australia currently appears to be the most represented state in current native title compensation claims by a long way.

c.     It may be the case that we will soon begin to see many more native title compensation claims emerging from the other states and territories.

6.     In Timber Creek, the court adopted the trial judge’s bifurcated approach to assessing the components of native title compensation, comprising of:

a.     economic loss, including simple interest to the economic loss; and

b.     non-economic loss (what the court labels ‘cultural loss’).[2]

7.     This article focuses on the final component of the court’s bifurcated approach, cultural loss.

8.     There are several other questions which this paper will not consider but which Timber Creek leaves unanswered. These include:

a.     whether compensable acts are in fact limited to after the commencement of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth);[3]

b.     how economic loss should be valued and what methods can be adopted;

c.     in what instances could claimants claim compound interest to their economic loss, and what do they need to show to substantiate that claim;

d.     the assessment of a market value for compensation in respect to mining tenements;

e.     the application of international examples of compensations settlements;[4] and

f.      appropriate negotiation strategies to seek the resolution between of a native title compensation application.

9.     Instead, this article will focus on:

a.     Why is cultural loss relevant? And what are the legal principles and factors underpinning it?

b.     How can evidence be gathered?

c.     What can parties do to reach an agreement on cultural loss?

Why is cultural loss relevant?

Legal principles

10.  Subsection 51(xxi) of the Constitution provides for the legislative power in respect to:[5]

the acquisition of property on just terms from any State or person for any purpose in respect of which the Parliament has power to make laws; (emphasis added)

11.  Part 2, Division 5 of the NTA contains the compensation provisions relating to native title, and s 51 of the NTA applies the requirement for ‘just terms’ compensation to the extinguishment of or impact on native title rights and interests as follows:[6]

Just compensation

(1) Subject to subsection (3), the entitlement to compensation under Division 2, 2A, 2B, 3 or 4 is an entitlement on just terms to compensate the native title holders for any loss, diminution, impairment or other effect of the act on their native title rights and interests. (emphasis added)

Acquisition under compulsory acquisition law

(2) If the act is the compulsory acquisition of all or any of the native title rights and interests of the native title holders, the court, person or body making the determination of compensation on just terms may, subject to subsections (5) to (8), in doing so have regard to any principles or criteria for determining compensation set out in the law under which the compulsory acquisition takes place.’

12.  The NTA does not set out how to assess just terms compensation for extinguishment of or impairment on native title rights and interests.

13.  Instead, the High Court’s interpretation in Timber Creek remains the primary authority on this question, and the trial judge’s bifurcated approach remains the current approach to resolving native title compensation claims. While other compensation claims may approach this question differently in future, this approach was not contested by the appellant or respondent in Timber Creek, and was endorsed by the High Court.[7]

14.  The non-economic aspect of native title compensation relates to any ‘other effect of the [compensable] act on their native title rights and interests’ (as emphasised above from s 51(1) of the NTA).

15.  The High Court defines the non-economic component of native title compensation (what the High Court labels as ‘cultural loss’), as being: [8]

‘…compensation for that aspect of the value of land to native title holders which is inherent in the thing that has been lost, diminished, impaired or otherwise affected by the compensable acts. It is not just about hurt feelings, although the strength of feeling may have evidentiary value in determining the extent of it. It is compensation for a particular effect of a compensable act…’

16.  This definition was a departure from the trial judge’s use of the term ‘solatium’[9] to refer to the non-economic component of the claimant’s native title compensation. The High Court instead observed that the English common law principle of ‘solatium’ did not apply to the special nature of “native title rights and interests that arise under traditional laws and customs which owe their origins and nature to a different belief system.”[10]

17.  The High Court understood s 51(1) of the NTA as recognising two aspects of native title rights and interests identified in s 223(1), those being: [11]

‘(T)he physical or material aspect (the right to do something in relation to land) and the cultural or spiritual aspect (the connection with the land) – as well as the fact that the manner in which each aspect may be affected by a compensable act may be different.’

18.  Importantly, while Timber Creek identified the task of assessing cultural loss and the requirement to assess the amount of compensation as an in globo amount,[12] the case did not set clear guidance on how that amount can be determined. The trial judge emphasised the observation of Mahoney A-CJ in Crampton v Nugawela (1996) 41 NSWLR 176 that:

‘There is no yardstick for measuring these matters. Value may be determined by a market: there is no market for this. There is no generally accepted or perceptible level of awards, made by juries or by judges, which can be isolated and which can indicate the “ongoing rate” or judicial consensus on these matters. And there is, of course, no statutory or other basis. In the end, damages for distress and anguish are the result of a social judgment, made by the jury and monitored by appellate courts, of what, in the given community at the given time, is an appropriate award or, perhaps, solatium for what has been done.’[13]

19.  Instead, the trial judge took an intuitive approach, requiring a quantum of compensation that would be considered fair and just in the Australian community.[14]

20.  The High Court adopted the trial judge’s approach to assessing the non-economic component of native title compensation, confirming that:[15]

‘The task then is to determine the essentially spiritual relationship which the Ngaliwurru and Nungali Peoples had with their country and to translate the spiritual hurt caused by the compensable acts into compensation.’

21.  The High Court also endorsed the trial judge’s three interrelated steps when assessing cultural loss, those being:[16]

a.     identification of the compensable acts;

b.     identification of the native title holders’ connection with the land or waters by their laws and customs; and

c.     consideration of the interrelated effects of the compensable acts on that connection.

22.  The High Court clarifies that compensable acts should not be considered in isolation, but instead regard must be given to their accumulative effects. The High Court used the often quoted, and effective metaphor of damage to a painting: [17]

‘Each act affected native title rights and interests with respect to a particular piece of land.  But each act was also to be understood by reference to the whole of the area over which the relevant rights and interests had been claimed.  As was explained earlier, each act put a hole in what could be likened to a single large painting – a single and coherent pattern of belief in relation to a far wider area of land.  It was as if a series of holes was punched in separate parts of the one painting.  The damage done was not to be measured by reference to the hole, or any one hole, but by reference to the entire work.’ (emphasis added)

23.  In short, the Timber Creek decision makes clear that assessing cultural loss:

a.     requires consideration of the ‘bigger picture’ of the compensable acts, including analysis of the interrelated effects on native title holders’ connection with land or water by their laws and customs;

b.     is intuitive; and

c.     will depend on the facts of each case.


24.  Applying the High Court’s approach adopted in Timber Creek will require native title holders to demonstrate the nature of their native title rights and interests before the compensable act, as well as how that compensable act has affected those rights. In short, native title holders will need to start by showing the nature of the rights and interests they claim to have been affected by the compensable act.

25.  Witness evidence will be important to establish these facts. However, this may be difficult for acts that date back to 1975. As such, lay evidence will need to be supported by expert evidence which speaks to what rights and interests existed at the relevant point in time.

26.  Once agreement has been reached on the rights and interests that existed at the time of the compensable act, evidence will in turn need to demonstrate the diminution of the rights and interests on the native title holders, both in context of their spiritual as well as physical dimensions.

27.  As encapsulated by the High Court’s metaphor of the entire painted work, the effects of the compensable acts are not limited to the particular parcel of land to which the act applies, but rather in reference to the whole of the area in which a group holds native title. As such, evidence should seek to demonstrate the spiritual damage caused by the act to “a single and coherent pattern of belief in relation to a far wider area of land.”[18]

28.  Evidence might demonstrate that the damage is “permanent and intergenerational.”[19] Therefore, contemporary evidence of lay witnesses may explain how the effects of the damage to rights and interests continue to be felt. In a way this could be described as continuity evidence in the compensation context. In Timber Creek for example, the High Court recognised the fact that the effect of the compensable acts on the claimants had not diminished in the three decades that had passed.[20]

29.  Anthropological evidence should aim to provide a comprehensive account that can support these facts. Expert anthropologist Pamela McGrath has commented that anthropological evidence will need to help ‘articulate not only connections to country, but also the qualities and consequences of the social impacts that accompany the loss of connections to country.’[21]

30.  In the Timber Creek trial, the anthropological evidence substantiated the following factors for the trial judge’s assessment of cultural loss:[22]

a.     the nature of the native title interest affected;

b.     the length of time of native title holders’ connection to country;

c.     the distress and anxiety caused by the loss of the part of country;

d.     the period of time people have been dispossessed of country;

e.     the fact that people would have maintained their connection in perpetuity if not for the dispossession; and

f.      the special value of the land to the community.

31.  In particular, anthropological evidence will assist in substantiating the different forms of cultural loss, which include loss relating to impaired access, residence, activities, practices, ecology, sites, trauma as well as progressive impairment.[23]

32.  To summarise, the approach adopted by the High Court in Timber Creek makes clear that an assessment and evidencing of cultural loss requires:

a.     Definition of the native title rights and interests, including an analysis of any difference between those rights and interests at the time of the compensable act and ‘now’; and

b.     the anthropological research will need to provide a comprehensive account of the claimants’ spiritual connection to the entirety of the country.

How can evidence be gathered?

Timber Creek

33.  Analysis of the evidence submitted and considered in Timber Creek should help inform the type of evidence required to substantiate a claim to native title compensation in accordance with the considerations identified by the High Court. Naturally, this evidence was to trial standard.

34.  In Timber Creek, the High Court considered evidence which included evidence from claimants about the effects of acts done on land without permission, with one claimant giving evidence that: [24]

‘Each group has to look after its bit of the Dreaming. If something goes wrong with our part, others think we are no good. That’s what happened when all of these things have been built in the town. Other Aboriginal people complain about it and say that we are letting them down.

It hurts my feelings when gardia do these things. They go ahead without talking to the old fella [AG (now deceased)] or me. When I see the Dreaming being damaged, I feel for my old people. I feel ashamed, like I’ve done the wrong thing myself in not looking after the country, the sites and the Dreaming. And [AG (now deceased)] gets cross with me. He says I am letting down the old people.’

35.  The anthropological evidence tendered on behalf of the claimant was prepared by Dr Kingsley Palmer and Ms Wendy Asche. The evidence focussed on establishing the interconnectedness of the multiple sites they documented around Timber Creek, and their significance to the Ngaliwurru and Nungali people.

36.  The court noted Palmer and Asche’s emphasis of the relationship between the Dreaming and the sites: [25]

‘sites are a pivotal Dreaming reference and represent, in the applicants’ belief, an important attestation of the powerful spirituality of the Dreaming. … [T]he power … underpins the system whereby the applicants consider their world to be ordered. … Sites are then far more than places or lists of named locations. They should also be understood as meta-place, that is a reference to a place is also a reference to a whole range of spirituality and associated imperatives that inform social exchanges, cultural activity and determine priorities.’

37.  The anthropolgoical research took an emic approach to the evidencing of the claimants’ experiences of emotional distress and suffering arising from the compensable acts, and relied heavily on language and cultural expression to frame that suffering.[26]

38.  The research included identification of words in the local language (Ngaliwuru) that described the group’s loss or alienation of country and damage to it.

39.  This includes:[27]

a.     ‘Paark’ – meaning something irretrievably broken.

b.     ‘Maring’ – meaning something damaged or ‘buggered up’, or used in conjunction with country (yakpali) to mean ‘spoiling the country’.

c.     ‘Puru maring’ – meaning intense personal feelings that accompany an act of spoiling. ‘Puru’ means gut, and ‘puru maring’ can be translated as ‘broken-hearted’ or, as preferred by the trial judge, ‘gut wrenching’.[28]

40.  This language helps describe the claimants’ experiences of distress as a result of the compensable acts, and the concepts of pain, suffering and reputational damage (such as a result of their inability to perform their duties) in relation to their traditions and customs.

41.  Specifically in Timber Creek, the evidence of the effects on connection and native title rights and interests considered by the High Court to assess cultural loss included:

a.     the concept of “puru maring” caused by the construction of water tanks on a Dreaming track”.[29]

b.     acts obstructing the claimants’ ability to conduct ceremonial and spiritual activities on parcels adjoining areas where compensable acts took place;[30]

c.     the fact that each of the compensable acts to some degree “chipped away” at the geographical area resulting in incremental detriment to the enjoyment of the native title rights and interests over the entire area leading to a collective diminution of the Claim Group’s cultural and spiritual connection with the land and a sense of failed responsibility, under the traditional laws and customs, to have cared for and looked after the land; and[31]

d.     hurt feelings and shame in the community caused to claimants by the construction, without their permission, of a concrete causeway (and four other construction events) on Timber Creek that “cut the life out of the (Wirup) Dreaming” and which was perceived as a failure to look after the Dreaming.[32]

De Rose Hill

42.  Another useful example is what we can glean from De Rose Hill, the first consent determination for native title compensation. This case was resolved by consent determination, and as such the agreement on the settlement amount was not specifically an agreement about cultural loss.

43.  However, in the reasons for the consent determination in De Rose Hill, Mansfield J made clear that:[33]

It is useful to put into more context the significance to the [native title holders] of the particular areas of land in respect of which, in particular, compensation is to be granted. In doing so, it is also important to note that my comments in [38]-[67] below do not represent an agreed statement of facts, nor do they reflect the position of the State in relation to the issues discussed therein. They reflect the statements made by the members of the compensation claim group during the course of the negotiations and therefore, to some degree, reflect the basis on which those negotiations proceeded. A compromise has been reached between the parties and it has not been necessary for the State to test the statements made by members of the compensation claim group during those negotiations. (emphasis added)

44.  Although not involving an agreement on cultural loss, the reasons for the decision to make the compensation determination reveal that the rich evidence of cultural connection and the direct and indirect effects of compensable acts on that connection provided by the claimants were central to the process.

45.  The broad process adopted in De Rose Hill was as follows:

a.     pre-filing exchange of information;

b.     authorisation and filing;

c.     refinement of issues in dispute;

d.     on-country and in-court mediation; and

e.     agreement on quantum.[34]

46.  Evidence was exchanged at each and every stage of the process identified at paragraph 39.

47.  Evidence included:

a.     anthropological evidence (prepared by the same anthropologist at the trial);

b.     witness statements; and

c.     on-country exchanges of information.

48.  However, it was the on-country exchanges of information during mediation that appears to have proved particularly key to the resolution of native title compensation. The significance of these exchanges is recorded in the reasons for making the compensation determination, where Mansfield J notes that:[35]

Mediation conferences were held in Adelaide on 26 June 2012 and on-country on 28 and 29 June 2012. In the mediator’s report to the Court dated 3 October 2012, the significance of the on-country mediation is described in the following terms (at [5]-[6]):

In my view, the “on-country” information sessions were conducted admirably on both sides. They undoubtedly ‘brought to life’ particular elements of the compensation claim, the Applicant is contending for and informed subsequent dealings between the parties. (emphasis added)

49.  While the negotiated agreement to settle De Rose Hill cannot be said to have been an agreement on cultural loss, the reasons for the decision to make the compensation determination reveal rich evidence of cultural connection that was provided on-country. For example, Mansfield J explains[36]:

The parties to the mediation have agreed to disclose that a number of senior members of the Nguraritja spoke during the on-country mediation about the significance to them of the areas where native title has been extinguished. They refer to De Rose Hill Station as Kalaya (Emu) Country due to the Kalaya Tjukurpa (emu dreaming) that passes through that country. A number of other Tjukurpa, for example, Papa (Dog) and Malu (Kangaroo) also travel within and across the boundaries of De Rose Hill Pastoral Run. The Nguraritja spoke about the Tjukurpa stories associated with each of the areas affected by the extinguishing acts.

50.  The on-country exchange of information included the:

a.     sharing of song lines that had been interrupted due to a compensable act and the consequential shame and pain attached to the effect of the act on parts of the song line;

b.     firsthand accounts of the experience of the compensable acts and their effects; and

c.     firsthand accounts of how the environment had changed as a consequence of the compensable acts, and the significance of these changes to the spiritual integrity of the landscape and its Tjukurpa stories.

51.  In the reasons for the determination, Mansfield J records detail of claimant statements about particular effects compensable acts, which we now know equate to cultural loss. These include:

a.     feelings of exclusion from parts of the Kalaya Tjukurpa (emu dreaming) on account of a freehold block, and an inability to take young people to that area to teach aspects of the dreaming;[37]

b.     damage the construction of the Stuart Highway has done to the physical environment and in turn spiritual integrity of the Kalaya Tjukurpa, with claimants describing the damage as a ‘cutting of a cassette tape’;[38]

c.     the interruption caused by the construction of a car park and the subsequent increased motor activity to men’s initiation ceremonies at Agnes Creek;[39]

d.     the interruption to a creek bed by the construction of an embankment, impacting the claimants’ ability to teach aspects of the Kalaya Tjukurpa story and in turn generating a sense of failure by the claimants to protect a sacred site;[40]

e.     the construction of part of the Stuart Highway over a traditional grave sight, causing the irrevocable loss of the spirit of the deceased relative.[41]

Future claims

52.  We are aware of several native title compensation claims that are being prepared. Those claims are known to be informed by expert anthropological evidence, from anthropologists with high standing and experience in the relevant region.

53.  In review of the evidence used and considered in previous cultural loss claims, topics and questions that could be included in a brief to anthropologists for such claims include:

a.     Law and customs:

                                               i.     What are the native title holders’ traditional laws and customs laws and customs from 1975 to present?

                                              ii.     What is the native title holders’ connection to country by way of those traditional laws and customs from 1975 to present?

b.     Effects of compensable acts:

                                               i.     What effects have the acts had on the exercise by native title holders of their native title rights and interests?

                                              ii.     What effects have the acts had on the native title holders’ connection to the particular land and waters the subject of the act?

                                             iii.     What effects have the acts on the native title holders as individuals and as a group?

c.     Collective and cumulative effects:

                                               i.     What are the cumulative effects on the native title holders’ rights and interests?

                                              ii.     What are the cumulative effects on the native title holders’ connection to country?

                                             iii.     What are the cumulative effects on the native title holders as individuals and as a group?

54.  A brief should also request the anthropologist to consider the following specific questions in relation to the compensable acts:

a.     What effects can denial of access to places have on the native title holders and their connection?

b.     To what extent has customary law and other ceremonial activity been conducted on country in the past, and to what extent now? What has the change been?

c.     What effect on native title holders does a lack of access to flora and fauna in particular places?

d.     How can changes to the topography of country, the quality and quantity of groundwater and the integrity of the environment affect native title holders’ and their country?

e.     What obligations and responsibilities under traditional law have been or could be impacted? How the obligations and responsibilities reflected in native title rights and interests? What consequences or potential or perceived consequences could arise as a result of the native title holders’ failure to perform those obligations and responsibilities? What effect does this have on physical and mental health, spirituality and/or membership to a society?

f.      What might be the effects on future generations?

g.     To what extent could there be positive effects on the native title holders and their connection?

55.  Presumably in reflecting on his experiences in Timber Creek, in 2018, Dr Palmer summarised the anthropologist’s role in a native title compensation claim as “to provide understandings of how the pain and suffering might be manifest as well as how such emotional distress develops from the alienation of land.”[42]


56.  He has also identified three fundamental research questions (that in our view should be considered when briefing an expert) and that we summarise here:[43]

a.     Are you able to demonstrate the spiritual relationship between the native title holders and their country?

b.     Do proprietary rights in country extend to the management of country, and include the exercise of duties and responsibilities; and

c.     Demonstrate any emotional distress and suffering that would be caused by the inability to exercise rights and interests and/or duties and obligations.

57.  As discussed above at [18] and [19] above, the High Court’s approach to assessing cultural loss was intuitive, and gave regard to assessing that loss to a value that would be considered fair and just in the Australian community. While Timber Creek does not provide a prescribed method or process for this intuitive task of assessing cultural loss, it is worth noting that the NSW Valuer General has adopted an approach that involves the assessment of: [44]

a.     the forms and number of forms of cultural loss identified;

b.     the significance of each of the forms of loss identified in consultation with the claimant, preferably on country; and

c.     the whole of the evidence.

What could the parties do to reach an agreement on cultural loss?

Processes and tips

58.  There are several processes that parties can use to support evidencing and assessing cultural loss, including:

a.     exchanging anthropological reports, preferably with an agreed terms of reference;

b.     provision of witness evidence;

c.     exchanging pleadings (for example Statements of Issues, Facts and Contentions), with a view to narrowing issues in dispute;

d.     an inquiry under s 54A of the Federal Court of Australia Act 1976 (Cth); and

e.     mediation, with an aim to support the exchange of information.

59.  It is important to note that none of these processes are new, and they are in fact common pre-trial processes.

60.  Important reminders relevant to cultural loss include:

a.     Respect and sensitivity: there is a chance that there can be initial misunderstandings amongst participants of the law and process. This is particularly the case for participants who may have previously been familiar with the process for evidencing connection in a native title claim, but less familiar with the process for evidencing damage to connection in a compensation claim. It can also often be tricky to talk about terms like ‘compensation’ and ‘loss’ to Aboriginal witnesses, especially in these settings. Practitioners have an ethical and professional obligation to treat issues with sensitivity and respect, as well as to manage expectations of participants from the outset.

b.     Getting on-country and COVID-19: there is an obvious need to comply with directors and to keep communities safe against the risks of COVID-19. Topics relating to cultural loss however require context that can only be achieved by being on country. Successful on-country fieldwork requires a combination of thoughtful pre-planning, but also a high-level of on-ground flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. This is easier said than done.

61.  The claimants will play a crucial role in any meaningful agreement-making process on native title compensation. In turn, their evidence will play central importance in the process for claimants and the State or Territory to reach an agreement on native title compensation.

62.  When working with native title holders, key questions you may want to explore in relation to cultural loss include:

a.     Connection to country and rights and interests:

                                               i.     What was their connection before the act compared to now? What has changed?

                                              ii.     What is the impact on any restricted access, locked gates or new roads?

                                             iii.     How have these acts changed what can be done?

                                             iv.     To what extent have the native title holders’ participated in or managed the relevant act?

b.     Law and culture:

                                               i.     What is the correct process for development? How should native title holders’ be consulted? How should decisions be made?

                                              ii.     How has the conduct of meetings and ceremonies changed?

                                             iii.     What is the impact on teaching law and culture?

                                             iv.     To what extent have native title holders’ been able to fulfil their obligations to protect country? What is the damage to reputation for the failure to do so?

                                              v.     What are the physical or spiritual consequences of not being able to fulfil cultural obligations?

c.     Environment:

                                               i.     What changes have there been to access to country?

                                              ii.     What changes have there been to human presence and interaction with sites?

                                             iii.     What changes have there been to the flora and fauna?

                                             iv.     What changes have there been to water?

                                              v.     Has there been any land clearing?

                                             vi.     Has machinery been used on the environment?

                                            vii.     Are there any other visible changes?

                                           viii.     Are there parts of the country that needs repairing?

d.     Feelings:

                                               i.     What has been the native title holders’ response to development on country?

                                              ii.     How may the old people feel?

                                             iii.     Has there been any increased conflict because of the act?

                                             iv.     Has there been any positive impact of the act?


63.  There has been general policy support for an agreement making process to resolve native title compensation claims. For example, the National Indigenous Australians Agency’s principles for native title compensation, endorsed in principle by State and Territory native title ministers, state that ‘while litigation may in some cases be necessary and appropriate, governments will use their best efforts to settle native title compensation matters by agreement where possible.’[45]

64.  However, we suggest that until there is a national agreement on funding the process for, and possibly settlement of, resolving native title compensation, it is unlikely that a national approach will be adopted.

65.  There are several claims in waiting, including at least three large claims in South Australia. Many others are likely being prepared, noting that the gathering of evidence must precede filing. Native Title Representative Bodies and Service Providers are coordinating for appropriate test cases. In this context, it is likely that the filing of claims will be necessary to ‘trigger’ the appropriate resourcing of agreement making, in order to meet the increase in any pre-trial mediation of claims.

66.  The evidencing of cultural loss will become increasingly difficult overtime. This is because more time will have passed since compensable acts in question. There will be a need to adopt a different approach to witnesses in native title consent determination evidence, and the questions they are asked. We will also likely see an increase in the use of preservation of evidence processes after the determination of native title that focus on cultural loss.


67.  This article has:

a.     summarised the relevance of cultural loss as a component to native title compensation, the legal principles that underpin it;

b.     provided examples of the process that has, and that can be, adopted to evidence and assess cultural loss; and

c.     identified tips and helpful processes for parties to reach an agreement on native title compensation claims.

68.  Timber Creek and other determinations are an important starting point when considering how best to evidence and assess cultural loss. However, the case law is still developing in this area, and the current authorities still leave many questions unanswered. While we now understand the components to the assessment of a native title compensation claim, there is still no clear guidance on the most appropriate methods and processes for evidencing and evaluating those claims. In any case, each case will need to depend on its facts.

69.  Anthropologists will likely continue to play an increasingly important role in evidencing the extent of cultural loss. However, firsthand witness evidence will remain crucial, particularly where native title compensation claims are sought to be resolved by agreement.

70.  Existing pre-trial processes can be utilised to reach an agreement on native title compensation. Such processes will reflect those used in relation to the resolution of native title claims generally.



[1] For more information about active and determined native title compensation claims, see the National Native Title Tribunal Website:

[2] Northern Territory v Mr A Griffiths (decd) and Lorraine Jones obh of Ngaliwurru and Nungali Peoples (2019) 269 CLR 1 (Timber Creek), [84].

[3] In 2019, Dr Galarrwuy Yunupingu filed the Galarrwuy Yunupingu (on behalf of the Gumatj Clan or Estate Group) NTD 42 of 2019 native title compensation claim in respect to compensable acts that occurred in the Gove Peninsula in the 1960s.

[4] An example includes the Gift Lake Métis Settlement in Canada.

[5] Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act (the Constitution), s 51(xxxi).

[6] Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) (NTA), ss 51(1) & (2).

[7] Timber Creek, [84].

[8] Timber Creek, [154].

[9] Note that, in general principles for the compensation applying to the compulsory acquisition of land, ‘solatium’ refers to that non-economic element of the compensation whereby a party is compelled to give up a piece of land that they would not have otherwise taken to market. The party’s unwillingness to take the land to market indicates the fact that the value of that land that the party is greater than the market value. Solatium is often capped at 10% of the market value of the land, as is the case in Victoria and Western Australia. See Land Acquisition and Compensation Act 1986 (Vic), s 44 & Land Administration act 1997 (WA), s 241(8) & (9).

[10] Timber Creek, [53].

[11] Timber Creek, [44].

[12] Timber Creek, [156].

[13] Mansfield J, Griffiths v Northern Territory (No 3) (2016) 337 ALR 362, [313].

[14] Timber Creek, [237].

[15] Timber Creek, [216].

[16] Timber Creek, [218].

[17] Timber Creek, [219].

[18] Timber Creek, [219].

[19] Timber Creek, [230].

[20] Timber Creek, [207].

[21] Pamela Faye McGrath, ‘Native Title Anthropology after the Timber Creek Decision’, Land, Rights, Laws: Issues of Native Title 6(5): 1-5, 1.

[22] Mansfield J, Griffiths v Northern Territory (No 3) (2016) 337 ALR 362, [368].

[23] For examples of these forms of cultural loss, see ‘Review of Forms of Cultural Loss and the Process and Method for Quantifying Compensation for Compulsory Acquisition’, January 2022, 36-37.

[24] Timber Creek, [180]

[25] Timber Creek, [172]

[26] See Palmer K, 235.

[27] See Palmer K, 234.

[28] Mansfield J, Griffiths v Northern Territory (No 3) (2016) 337 ALR 362, [350].

[29] Timber Creek, [202].

[30] Timber Creek, [225].

[31] Timber Creek, [225].

[32] Timber Creek, [180]

[33] De Rose v State of South Australia [2013] (De Rose Hill) FCA 988, [37].

[34] As mentioned at paragraphs 37 and 38, the quantum was for a full and agreed settlement amount, and there was no particular agreement about a cultural loss component.

[35] De Rose Hill, [34].

[36] De Rose Hill, [35].

[37] De Rose Hill, [43]..

[38] De Rose Hill, [47].

[39] De Rose Hill, [49]-[56].

[40] De Rose Hill, [57]-[62].

[41] De Rose Hill, [63]-[67].

[42] Palmer K, Australian Native Title Anthropology: Strategic Practice, the Law and the State, ANU Press, 2018, 234.  

[43] Palmer K, 234-238.

[44] See the approach to assessing cultural loss adopted by the NSW Valuer General in ‘Review of Forms of Cultural Loss and the Process and Method for Quantifying Compensation for Compulsory Acquisition’,  January 2022,, 40.

[45] ‘National Guiding Principles for Native Title Compensation Agreement Making’, National Indigenous Australians Agency’, National Indigenous Australians Agency, 22 November 2021, 1.