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Native Title Anthropology after the Timber Creek Decision
In August 2016, the traditional owners of Timber Creek in the Northern Territory, the Ngaliwurru and Nungali peoples, were awarded over $3.3 million for the loss of their native title rights.
$1.3 million of this award was a solatium payment, that is, compensation for hurt arising from damage caused by the loss of connection to the land. Griffiths v Northern Territory of Australia (No 3)  FCA 900 (Timber Creek), which was heard by Justice John Mansfield, is the courts first litigated award of compensation for the loss or impairment of native title rights. In making his decision, Justice Mansfield relied on the evidence of anthropologists when assessing not only connections to country, but also the qualities and consequences of the social impacts that accompany the loss of connections to country.
This paper considers the implications of the Timber Creek decision for the work of native title anthropologists and highlights some of the conceptual and methodological shifts required for research on native title compensation claims. The author draws attention to the demanding nature of native title compensation cases and the potential for research to aggravate existing trauma associated with loss of country, arguing for the need for all involved to be attentive to this risk when pursuing future claims.