A FEDERAL Court case has failed to resolve the saga of Hindmarsh Island bridge, secret women's business and a $20 million fight for compensation.
Marina developers indicated yesterday they would consider an appeal to the Full Court of the Federal Court after Justice John von Doussa dismissed their compensation claim.
Hindmarsh Island marina developers Tom and Wendy Chapman had sought $20 million compensation to cover losses sustained when construction of the bridge — to link Hindmarsh Island, 80km south of Adelaide, with the South Australian mainland — was banned by the federal government in 1994, a decision later overturned in court.
Justice von Doussa also ruled that Aborigines did not fabricate secret women's business to prevent the bridge being built.
Much of the protracted debate over the original planning and construction of the bridge had centred on an elderly woman from the Ngarrindjeri tribe, Doreen Kartinyeri, who is also an Aboriginal family historian at the SA Museum.
She wrote of Aboriginal women's "secret business" related to the site — business not to be divulged outside women's circles —and claimed the site was sacred to Aboriginal women.
The claims of the site's sacred nature prompted the then federal Aboriginal affairs minister Robert Tickner to cancel construction of the bridge. A later royal commission found the claims of secret women's business were fabricated.
Justice John von Doussa said yesterday:
"Upon the evidence before this court, I am not satisfied that the restricted women's knowledge was fabricated or that it was not part of genuine Aboriginal tradition."
The Chapmans had maintained since 1989 that the future of their company, Binalong, depended on a bridge being built to replace a ferry from the mainland to the island. The Chapmans' marina was valued at more than $16.5 million, but when construction of the bridge was banned, the marina's value plunged and it was eventually sold for less than $1 million.
Asked if an appeal would be launched, Tom Chapman said: "We've got to take legal advice on that." Wendy Chapman said: "We're not quitters, we never have been. Many people have asked us in the last eight years 'why on earth don't you just walk away?' No, we've chosen not to walk away, we have chosen to seek justice and I think that is probably our motivation."
Doreen Kartinyeri was overwhelmed by the court ruling. I feel happy, I wasn't expecting everything to come our way," she said outside the court. "This is a victory for all indigenous people in this country. I'm only glad that I was alive today to see this decision."
Ngarrindjeri tribe member Sandra Saunders said the decision vindicated her people and "tomorrow's headlines should be sorry, sorry, sorry' because these women are not fabricators".
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