When I was a small boy in Hobart, my mates and I would often go down to the Tasmanian Museum after school; and one of the exhibits that interested us most was what we called ‘the human skeleton’. It stood in a glass case on the stairs, and it was only when we were older that we took in the fact that these were the remains of ‘Queen’ Trucanini, last of the Tasmanian Aborigines. There was no general notion abroad then that there was anything wrong with exhibiting these bones; but I remember a vague sense of unease – of being in the presence of something shameful. Such a sense exists in all of us; but there is no god so powerful as science in persuading men to suppress it.
Scarcely a week passes without reference in the media to Aboriginal land rights. The tone of the reporting varies from the outraged indignation of those who see their rights to exploit and control land being curtailed, through eloquent pleas for simple justice, to forceful demands for the return of land which was illegally acquired. Comment is not confined to Australia: the rights of indigenous peoples are matters for comment in international forums such as the United Nations and the World Council for Indigenous Peoples. Yet despite this coverage ignorance, prejudice and paternalism abound. For this reason, a comprehensive volume on land rights Australia-wide is welcome.