|White lies, black truths.|
>> In the most important native title decision since the Wik case, the High
>> Court has found that legislation in Western Australia extinguishes any
>> rights indigenous people might have held over mineral and oil deposits.
Ownership of the land was not enough for the elders of the Miriuwung and
Gajerrong people. They felt their traditional rights included the minerals
under the land as well as the land itself. However ownership of land generally
does not include those rights - just the right to use the top of the land
for buildings or farming - not mining.
Back in 1992, the High Court Mabo decision was complicated, but came down to a
simple principle: if you have some connection to a patch of land, act as though
it's yours, believe it's yours, and no-one else objects, then eventually it
becomes yours. Common law. White-man's rule. Going back hundreds of years.
This was pretty novel for Aboriginal culture. Having gained
mileage from several decades of a confusing but mystical mantra
'we belong to the land' they then had to get used to saying 'the
land belongs to us'.
Then they started saying '.. along with the oil, the diamonds, the uranium
and all the minerals under it', and alarm bells started ringing. Here were
a bunch of guys who had used the white-man's notion of ownership to obtain
something, and then were using the same notion to claim ownership rights that
whites themselves didn't have.
In winning Mabo, the Aborigines had to accept the total authority of a
patronizing High Court. Terra Nullius (the controversial claim that it was
acceptable for the English to exert English law and control onto the 'empty
land' now called Australia) suddenly became vindicated. Politically, the
decision was a foregone conclusion - any other result would have undermined the
High Court's authority.
But the High Court was also a bit like Eva Peron throwing cash to adoring
crowds to increase her popularity ("I've stolen your money, but I'll give it
back to you if you say you love me"). And yet here was Oliver Twist demanding
more. Not just thin gruel, but oil, uranium and diamonds no less. The outrage!
They may have had a better chance if they were asylum seekers. Asylum-seekers
could demonstrate no attachment to the land, but the High Court may have found
in their favor on the principle of dealing themselves back into the law-making
game. No such special consideration for the locals though, because the High
Court had already won this one, and the Aborigines left empty handed (except
for the dole cheques).
Maybe if some historical revisionist were able to prove that oil, diamonds,
uranium and other minerals are a traditional Aboriginal cultural right? This
claim would be no more outrageous than some - like the land-rights claim on the
Swan Brewery. Culture can be very adaptive.