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Mabo: now you see it, now you don't!

Race & Class , Volume 35 (4): 41 – Apr 1, 1994


Sage Publications
Copyright © 1994 by SAGE Publications
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Mabo: now you see it, now you don't!


PETER POYNTON Mabo: now you see it, now you don't! Behind the Kangaroo curtain there's an Aboriginal uprising burning like a bushfire across Australia. It was sparked by the High Court's 'Mabo decision' in June 1992, which resolved a ten-year legal battle in favour of a group of Torres Strait Islanders who claimed to own their island under 'native title' quite outside the tenure system introduced by the British conquerors. The High Court declared that Australian common law recognised native title and that Aboriginal people who could demonstrate an ongoing connection with their traditional lands could, potentially, claim them back under customary title,' providing those lands had not been alienated into freehold or leasehold in the course of the conquest. It threw out the notion that Australia had been te1rra nullius - belonging to nobody - upon discovery and overturned at a stroke 204 years of colonial mythology about an empty continent inhabited by inexplicable nomads. And so, in June 1992, those inexplicable nomads finally re-entered the Australian political pantheon as significant players. No longer are Aboriginal people merely welfare recipients, they are now key resource owners and they have their own agenda on resource development. When the
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