The Aboriginal Land Rights Movement

The Aboriginal Land Rights Movement

The Aboriginal Land Rights Movement

The Aboriginal Land Rights Movement

Excerpt

The Aboriginal land rights movement began, at least in a recognisable way, in the 1960s. 'Movement', however, is perhaps too strong a word, since the loose coalition of interests--of both Aborigines and white sympathisers-- centred upon the land rights issue does not constitute a coherent and well-defined movement with a clearly formulated policy and plan of action.

No doubt, this is to some extent a consequence of the fact that Australian Aborigines have never formed a unified 'nation' in any real sense. The basic unit of traditional Aboriginal life is the clan, which might number between twenty and two hundred people, which is centred upon a particular territory, and which may have its own distinct language and religious system. Again, there are deep differences between those Aborigines who live in a more or less traditional situation, in contact with their own country, and those who live on reserves and mission stations, in fringe camps, or in towns and cities. It is this pluralism which makes it difficult to speak of an Aboriginal land rights movement, as though it meant the same for all the various Aboriginal groups.

The objectives of the various groups involved in the land rights issue in fact differ very widely. Thus, for certain Aboriginal people living in a traditional situation, land rights claims mean quite specific and concrete requests to be granted freehold title over their own ancestral lands. But for other Aborigines who no longer have any close connection with their traditional territories, the claim is for a general grant of land (not necessarily traditional or ancestral Aboriginal land) on which they can live and by means of which they can satisfy their economic and social needs. Others may claim land as compensation for being dispossessed of their ancestral lands, or as a symbolic gesture of restitution on the part of the white Australian majority.

For some people land claims are linked inextricably with traditional Aboriginal religious beliefs and are seen as the sine qua non for the preservation of traditional culture, it being argued that without the restoration of their lands the whole cultural identity of certain Aboriginal peoples will be destroyed. On the other hand, for some people the restoration of land to Aborigines, or compensation for being deprived of their lands, is a matter of strict justice which has nothing to do with Aboriginal religion. Thus, it is argued that . . .

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