The map above shows that between the establishment of the British penal colony of New South Wales in 1788 and the mid-1960s, Indigenous Australians were deprived and dispossessed of virtually all their land.
According to Jon Altman, who created the map, this theft was justified using a number of reasons including:
- that native Australians were regarded as too savage or primitive to be land owners;
- these peoples had no notion or practice, what we term today institutions, of land ownership in the western way and no government, again in western terms;
- the land was deemed unoccupied although clearly this was not the case;
- and finally and most importantly it was argued that as hunter-gatherers, indigenous Australians did not employ agricultural practices and so a Lockean logic, the labour theory of property was mobilised to justify dispossession—those who did not till the land productively had lesser ownership rights in it.
However, starting in the 1960’s the process started to reverse and Indigenous Australians slowly began to reclaim some of their land. This coincided with the full restoration of voting rights that had been taken away at the start of the 20th century and the eventual end of the school system that led to the Stolen Generations.
While the situation today is better than it was in the mid-1960’s, land claims are still being resolved. And of course the areas that have been returned so far are mostly sparsely populated desert.
For more on this, read the excellent original source article: The political ecology and political economy of the Indigenous land titling ‘revolution’ in Australia. It goes into far more depth and includes a range of other really brilliant maps.
To learn more about the issue you may want to read:
- The Original Australians: Story of the Aboriginal People
- Aboriginal Australians: A History Since 1788
- Culture Crisis: Anthropology and Politics in Aboriginal Australia
- Sovereign Subjects: Indigenous Sovereignty Matters (Cultural Studies)
How do you feel about the theft and return of Australian Indigenous land? Leave your comments below: