Recognizing Aboriginal Title: The Mabo Case and Indigenous Resistance to English-Settler Colonialism

By in Land Use on July 21, 2013

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A judicial revolution occurred in 1992 when Australia’s highest court discarded a doctrine that had stood for two hundred years, that the country was a terra nullius – a land of no one – when the white man arrived. The proceedings were known as the Mabo Case, named for Eddie Koiki Mabo, the Torres Strait Islander who fought the notion that the Australian Aboriginal people did not have a system of land ownership before European colonization. The case had international repercussions, especially on the four countries in which English-settlers are the dominant population: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States.

In Recognizing Aboriginal Title, Peter H. Russell offers a comprehensive study of the Mabo case, its background, and its consequences, contextualizing it within the international struggle of Indigenous peoples to overcome their colonized status. Russell weaves together an historical narrative of Mabo’s life with an account of the legal and ideological premises of European imperialism and their eventual challenge by the global forces of decolonization. He traces the development of Australian law and policy in relation to Aborigines, and provides a detailed examination of the decade of litigation that led to the Mabo case.

Mabo died at the age of fifty-six just five months before the case was settled. Although he had been exiled from his land over a dispute when he was a teenager, he was buried there as a hero. Recognizing Aboriginal Title is a work of enormous importance by a legal and constitutional scholar of international renown, written with a passion worthy of its subject – a man who fought hard for his people and won.

One thought on “Recognizing Aboriginal Title: The Mabo Case and Indigenous Resistance to English-Settler Colonialism

  1. W Boudville
    1
    2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    a review of historic injustices, May 17, 2008
    By 
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    This review is from: Recognizing Aboriginal Title: The Mabo Case and Indigenous Resistance to English-Settler Colonialism (Paperback)

    To some Australians, the Mabo case threatened to overturn all that had happened since the British arrived in 1788. But to others, it was a long overdue acknowledgment of historic injustices. The author gives us the background behind Mabo. Chronicling years of effort by Aboriginal activists to assert some residue of native title.

    It’s not a cheery read. Much is explained of the parlous conditions under which many Aborigines labour; especially those still in rural tribal environments. Still, the account shows how persistent efforts led to a seminal decision by the High Court.

    The book does not describe the aftermath. In the few years since it came out, little has changed in the typical Aboriginal condition.

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