Marking twenty years since the Mabo decision

Today, it is twenty years since 3 June 1992, since the Mabo decision, since native title was first recognised in Australia and the doctrine of terra nullius was rejected by the High Court. ABC News has a timeline of events.

I was a very small girl at the time, and have no memories of the day, or the atmosphere, or how it felt to be present with that history. I should like to hear from you on the subject, readers.

Categories: history, indigenous

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7 replies

  1. I remember the whole ‘you’ll lose your backyard, they can come and take your farm” rubbish and my Grandfather wondering if anyone would make a claim on his farm. Not because there was any sites there, just because like all of the area I grew up in it was Wiradjuri country. Then the papers stopped with the crap, a few Native Title claims were made and everything went quiet again. I can’t remember what my great Aunty’s Aboriginal husband thought about it all.

  2. Mindy, my memory is much the same with respect of the fear-mongering about “taking our backyards” etc. I can’t remember how many people I clued in about Torrens Title extinguishing Native Title in the Act, but it was several dozen at least, and how disgusted I was that the mainstream media had failed to communicate this hugely important fact about the security of the homes and businesses Australians were living and working in.
    Pretty sure Alan Jones was leading the fear-mongering at the time, or at least right up in the front of the pack.

  3. If I am remembering (recent-ish) summaries of the political climate at the time, I believe Howard joined in the “Your backyards aren’t safe!” scaremongering. It’s one of his actions he was kinda, sorta, not-actually-all-that-much bothered by in later years.

  4. I was 18. I remember it being in the news. I remember the fear mongering. Unfortunately I don’t remember much else. I wish I did so I could tell my (Aboriginal) daughter about her history.

  5. I was in year 6. I don’t remember any of the “they’ll take your backyard” stuff — in fact, today is the first time I’ve heard that expression. At that point in my life, my family didn’t have television reception, so I wasn’t exposed to a lot of it.
    I DO remember discussing Native Title and terra nullius at school around the time of the decision, however, and being told, quite clearly, that people who were worried that their farms would be taken had it wrong, since the Aboriginal people claiming the land had to prove an ongoing use of the land. Obviously, my teacher was NOT one of the people buying into the whole Alan Jones narrative.

    • My impression, then and now, was that the “taking your backyard” stuff was a cynical exercise in misinformation being run by the megacorps worried about their mining and pastoral leases, which did not offer property titles immune from the provisions of the Native Title act. They were worried about any disruption to their profits, even though any Native Title claim was never going to be for more than a small portion of the hectarage covered by their leases.

  6. I can remember the whole “ohmigods, the sky is falling; they’ll take your back yard and the front yard and the space under the washing line too” panic (I was in Western Australia – our state opposition was busy pushing this line as hard as they could). I can dimly remember the infographics in the papers showing how much of the state could be subjected to a native title claim (most of it… but let’s face it, at least 2/3 of WA is desert). My family wasn’t all that worried by it; my own feelings were along the lines of “at long last, a fair go for the Aboriginal people” and aside from that, no real worries.
    A couple of years ago, my partner wound up working briefly for the National Native Title Tribunal, which is based here in Perth. Now, if you know anything of the nature of federal bureaucracy and the way the departmental politics runs in Canbrrra, you’ll know that a department or organisation’s power can be measured by how close their HQ is to Parliament House. The ones with the closest HQs at the moment are the Department of the Treasury and Finance, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and ASIO, all of which have their HQs visible from Parliament House; but the overall winners are the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, who have their HQ actually in Parliament House. Having the HQ of the National Native Title Tribunal over here in Perth basically means that the amount of power they wield is positively minuscule – they’re the only branch of the federal public service with a headquarters over here. They’re also slowly winding down now – it’s been twenty years, there’s very few new claims being made, and most of the existing claims have been resolved. This is, incidentally, why he’s no longer working for them – they’ve been having regular attacks of bad budget cuts, and they couldn’t afford to employ him any more.

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