Making Legal History: Crocodiles in the High Court

This famous case, sometimes  known as the “crocodile  case” started with the prosecution of former CLCAC CEO Murrandoo Yanner for the taking and killing of two crocodiles. He was charged with contravening the Queensland Fauna Conservation Act which provided that a person could not take fauna without being the holder of a particular licence. Murrandoo argued that he was exercising his rights as a Gangalidda person and according to traditional laws and custom and therefore he did not need to hold a licence.

The case went first to the Magistrate’s Court in Mount Isa, where the magistrate upheld Murrandoo’s defence, however the State government then appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal and this Court upheld the appeal. Murrandoo then took the case to the High Court.

Murrandoo hunting crocs

The High Court agreed with Murrandoo in a 5:2 decision and the charges against Murrandoo had to be dropped. The crocodile case remains a significant precedent in native title case law in Australia and, along with Mabo and Wik, it had much wider ramifications. It followed a series of cases involving the right of Indigenous people to hunt and gather their traditional foods.

What many do not know, however, is that the first case of this kind that came before the High Court was that of Walden v Hensler in 1987. In this case, the late Mr Herbert Walden, also a Gangalidda man, was charged with killing a turkey. Unfortunately, this was five years before the Mabo case and native title was not available to Mr Walden as a defence.