Indigenous Land in Australia 1788-2013

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The white-guilt ‘generous with the crappy bits’ argument is tedious at best.

Generosity has nothing to do with it. Native Title rights were found to exist at common law in some circumstances. These circumstances happen to be those that are least compatible with ‘settled’ European society. That is to say, Native Title does not exist where freehold and some other forms of tenure exist.

In the more remote parts of the country, forms of tenure incompatible with Native Title were less established, with much of the land either being crown land or pastoral leases which are compatible with Native Title.

The obvious implication is that freehold wasn’t the norm in these areas because the land was so marginal that it was not worth owning. Because of this Native Title can be argued to exist by the traditional Aboriginal inhabitants of the area. But to say that the government has ‘just given back the crappy parts’ is a silly piece of guilt mongering. The reality is that because the land was too marginal for settlement on a large scale, the forms of tenure that would extinguish native title were never established, hence it persists in these areas.

The other dimension is, of course, that Aboriginal people are required to demonstrate their connection to land in order to gain Native Title. This is much harder in the ‘better’ parts of the country where Aboriginal society has been far more disrupted for far longer. In more remote areas, it is easier to prove a connection to country because first contact with Europeans is within living memory and their traditional societies are far more intact.

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