The Politics of Remembering and Forgetting: Native Title Law and Reconciliation in Australia

Francesca Giorgia Dominello


The post-Mabo era was to be the age of reconciliation and the end of unjust dispossession of indigenous peoples’ lands. However, as the more recent cases in native title show this vision did not become the reality. In this paper, I will examine Mabo in its historical context. In particular I will examine the claim that Mabo was a product of the “new history” movement in Australia. This movement developed in response to the silence that had shrouded the history of colonial relations between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples for most of the 19th and 20th centuries. Through the writing of these histories, new historians have raised awareness of the history of colonization in Australia and the impact it has had on indigenous peoples in particular. In the paper I will outline the ways in which Mabo is a product of this history. However, if Mabo did not bring to an end to the injustice and inequality facing indigenous peoples in the context of land law in Australia, it is because of the traces of another history informing that decision and the events that followed it. In this paper I will refer to this history as the “old history” of Australia. In this history indigenous peoples are placed in a paradoxical position: they are inferior, but still seen as threat to the colonial enterprise. The paper will explore how this “history” is repeated in Mabo and continues to inform the High Court’s approach to native title law.

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