Australia, Between Australians
We the undersigned Australians, of European descent, believe that experience since 1788 has demonstrated the need for the status and rights of Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders to be established in a Treaty, Covenant or Convention freely negotiated with the Commonwealth Government by their representatives. Australia is the only former British colony not to recognise native title to land. From this first wrong two centuries of injustice have followed. It is time to strike away the past and make a just settlement together. We believe this would be a signal to the world that we are indeed one Australian people, at last.
In New Zealand, at the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, the Maori chiefs were guaranteed by their conquerors “full, exclusive and undisturbed possession of their lands… so long as it is their wish and desire to retain the same”, and most of these lands were later bought. In North America, Indian tribes negotiated treaties with their conquerors, who recognised the principle of purchase or compensation for the loss of their lands. The colonial authorities were directed by the government in London to deal with the tribes as “foreign nations”. In Papua, in 1884, the conquerors assured the people “your lands will be preserved unto you”, again until they decided to sell. But in Australia there was no recognition of Aboriginal land ownership, no compensation for dispossession, no treaty, despite the resistance of the Aboriginal tribes to their conquerors.
Indeed, the absence of a settlement leads many Aborigines to conclude even today that their resistance is not yet over. It is a sad conclusion, for all of us, after so many generations of living together in this country. We believe there is a deep and wide concern among Australians of European descent that our ownership of this land, as defined in the imported European law, should still be based solely upon force, without any documentary recognition of the quality and courage of those who were conquered. It is time to right this wrong.