Land Rights at Last!

Heidi Norman


In 1978 the Wran Government announced an Inquiry to investigate a range of issues including Aboriginal land rights recognition, the causes of Aboriginal social and economic disadvantage, heritage protection and commonwealth and state relations. The Select Committee, chaired by state member Maurie Keane, in its ‘First Report’ that focused on land rights, not only fundamentally changed the way Government’s liaise and consult with Aboriginal people, the Committee unanimously endorsed far-reaching recommendations including the ability to recover land, compensation for cultural loss and three-tier community driven administrative structure. All of this was set in the context of Aboriginal rights to self-determination and fundamental attachment to land as a cultural relationship and historical reality.

The movement for land rights was the culmination of many years of land justice activism, shifting policy at the Commonwealth level and wider international movements contesting colonial rule and racism. More specifically the land rights movement in NSW was galvanised in response to the previous Government’s renewed efforts to assimilate Aboriginal people and revoke reserve lands and the limited land rights recognition made possible through the Aboriginal Lands Trust (herein ‘the Trust’). This paper argues a more focused and pronounced campaign emerged in the mid 1970s whereby land rights ‘time had come’ as a result of Aboriginal political activism and the alliances formed with and among left social movements. This movement created the political climate for the Wran Government’s announcement of the Select Committee Inquiry in 1978.


Social change, Aboriginal Land Rights, activism and advocacy

Full Text: