Singing the Land, Signing the Land

3. The waters of one stream come from the land and that of the other from the sea, but the river as a whole is on the land and of the land.

Land rights are required for all Australians, not just European Australians. Both cultures need access to the land. Yet two hundred years ago in an act of extraordinary arrogance and ruthless enforcement, an entire people were dispossessed of their rights to live in their own land. No remedy in law was then allowed. In the late 20th century, Europeans will not and indeed should not give up their homes, their farms, their cities and their industries. What formulas can be found for restoring viable sections of crown land to those who originally owned it? If a measure of financial restitution were to be given, what are the most effective and equitable mechanisms by which Aboriginal communities might be given economic access to property ownership? Given the intimate connection of Aboriginal knowledge systems with the land itself, how do the values of cultural survival interact with the question of land ownership?

Corroboree, south australia

John Michael Skipper, 1815-1883, Corroboree, South Australia, 1840
oil on canvas, 106 x 152.3 cm
South Australian Museum, Adelaide.

The dance being viewed by Europeans, and the song they would have heard as an accompaniment, can usefully be understood as the text of a title to land (see Exhibit 5). To Aboriginal people then (and now) it seems that though European people watch and listen, they cannot see or hear. The process of ganma will not occur unless both sides approach the negotiations with a determination to understand something of the way the other knowledge system works.

A native corroboree at night


Samuel Thomas Gill, 1818-1880, A native corroboree at night (c. 1850)
watercolour, 42.7 X 63.5 cm
Rex Nan Kivell Collection, National Library of Australia, Canberra.

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