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Official offers 'deep regret' over land dispossession

Rachel Ward -

The boss of Victoria's land surveying authority has apologised for the role his predecessors played in depriving Indigenous people of their land and causing trauma.

Many high-ranking officials did not understand complex land systems were already in place when Europeans arrived in Victoria in the early 19th century, the state's Surveyor-General Craig Sand told the Yoorrook Justice Commission.

"I take this opportunity to formally and sincerely apologise for the role surveyor-generals past and present, and surveyors working under our direction, have had in the process of dispossession of land from first peoples of the area now known as Victoria," Mr Sand told the inquiry on Monday.

He said he "deeply" regretted that surveyors had caused significant trauma to Indigenous people and diminished their ability to care for country, practice language and exercise their rights.

Mr Sands said surveyors were part of "a broader systemic process that enabled land injustice to occur and continue to occur" and the effects were still being felt to this day.

The surveyor general is responsible for land surveying, boundaries and other related issues.

A reference handbook for surveyors, currently available on a state government website, does not contain any reference to the landmark 1992 Mabo decision on native title, which overturned Terra Nullius, the commission was told.

Mr Sand admitted that it was "very much out of date" and committed to updating it.

He revealed only one staff member working in the surveyor's office identified as Aboriginal out of about 85.

Earlier, Council Assisting Tony McAvoy SC told the commission that the British government knew the arrival of British people at Port Phillip would be "disastrous" for Aboriginal people.

"They knew, because they had seen it all happen before in Canada, Port Jackson and particularly in Van Diemen's Land," Mr McAvoy said.

"The loss of life was not inevitable but it was a known consequence of the land theft that was to take place."

Land, sky and water are the focus of the inquiry's current hearing block, which will take evidence from Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan in coming weeks.

Environment Minister Steve Dimopoulos and Treaty and First Peoples Minister Natalie Hutchins will address the commission later this week.

Co-chairs of the First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria, Ngarra Murray and Rueben Berg, will also give evidence.

Yoorrook is creating an official public record on the impact of colonisation on Aboriginal people in Victoria and will recommend actions to address historical and ongoing injustices.

It will inform the state's treaty negotiations.

Rachel Ward - AAP

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