Dialogue About Land Justice

Dialogue About Land Justice

Lisa Strelein (Ed.), Canberra Aboriginal Studies Press

Eddie Mabo’s claim before the High Court changed Australia in significant ways. The decision of the High Court overturned the legal fiction of terra nullius, and recognised the place of native title in common law. A great deal of argument and law-making followed.

Since 1999 there has been an annual Mabo Lecture as part the national Native Title Conference which has been held in many different places around Australia. This book is a collection of sixteen of those lectures. As the editor says, “The lecture aims to provide a contemporary commentary on native title issues in the context of Indigenous peoples’ struggle for recognition and control over their country and lives. The lecturers — both black and white — bring an enormous breadth of experience in the struggle for native title inAustraliaand elsewhere.

This is not always an easy book to read. Many of the lectures are concerned with quite technical issues about the place of native title within the Australian legal system. Those from Indigenous people often remind us how limited the gains were from Mabo and decisions about native title, and how this wasn’t recognition of land rights as understood by Indigenous people. This was native title squeezed into the European legal understanding of property.

My favourite essay is one by Joe Williams, a Maori person who is a New Zealand Supreme Court Judge. He asserts that the process of land rights and land claims has as its purpose an affirmation of the legal order or, as he says, it “must have the effect of confirming the moral legitimacy” of that order or game.

For those who are interested in land rights, native title, sovereignty, and justice for First Peoples in this country, this is an important book. It gives an important insight into conversations happening around the country, and the issues that still need to be tackled.

Chris Budden


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