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Australia's Lake Eyre native title decision - but what of the sailing?

by Sail-World Cruising round-up on 22 May 2012
Sailing Lake Eyre - will it be allowed again? .. .
This week, at the remote Finniss Springs Station south of the Oodnadatta Track, the Australian Federal Court is expected to recognise native title over one of Australia's most iconic lakes, Lake Eyre where the Lake Eyre Yacht Club is based. The question is - once granted, will sailors again be able to sail on the lake?

Lake Eyre, 15m below sea level and, when it fills, which is only about once in every three years, is one of the largest lakes in the world, at its peak around 9,500square kilometres.

Since 1974, every time Lake Eyre filled, there have been sailors on the great salty lake. In 2000, the Lake Eyre Yacht Club was formed and, under the enthusiastic guidance of its commodore Bob Backway, the sport flourished every time there was water. However, in 2011, sailing was stopped by the National Parks and Wildlife, asking that the indigenous Australians who had lodged a native title claim to the lake be consulted - and they wouldn't give permission.

The Arabana people lodged their claim more than 14 years ago. The court will determine whether indigenous title exists over 68,823 square kilometres of land in northern South Australia, including not only Lake Eyre, but also Marree town, and Anna Creek Station, reputed to be the largest working cattle station in the world.

The Arabana people's reason for wanting to ban sailing in Lake Eyre was because of its 'spiritual significance'.

The Lake Eyre Yacht Club members were incensed and its commodore, Bob Backway, encouraged sailors to risk hefty fines for using the lake without a permit in defiance of Arabana wishes.

It remains unclear whether sailing will be allowed following the court's decision. 'Lake Eyre is a sacred and significant place to all Arabana people,' Aaron Stuart, the chairman of the Arabana Aboriginal Corporation, said in a statement last week.

'We care for that land and the lake and we want to see the land protected. This does not mean that we object to tourists. We welcome tourism and we are happy to share our country.'

Does this statement mean that sailing will be once again allowed? Only time will tell.
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