bain attwood on dispossession in south australia


Bain Attwood, ‘Returning to the Past: The South Australian Colonisation Commission, the Colonial Office and Aboriginal Title’, Journal of Legal History 34, 1 (2013).

In the closing decades of the twentieth century many scholars sought to both address and redress the ways in which indigenous people’s rights in land had been treated historically by colonisers in Anglophone settler societies. More recently, this work has been criticised by a new generation of legal historians who have sought to delineate more carefully the role that the law actually played in the treatment of aboriginal title in the past. In keeping with the latter approach, this article seeks to recover the manner in which the indigenous people’s interests in land were treated in the British colony of South Australia at the time it was founded in the early-to-mid nineteenth century. It emphasises the manner in which the colonisers, the South Australian Colonisation Commission, rather than the British Colonial Office, deployed a range of legal arguments, especially in the context of political negotiations between these two parties. It concludes that the imperial government’s treatment of indigenous interests in land was primarily determined by its perception of the relationships of power on the ground between the colonial state, the settlers and the Aboriginal people rather than by its application of any particular legal principle or norm.

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