Lisa Ford

Bain Attwood’s Empire and the Making of Native Title is a welcome contribution to the field. Like many good historians of sovereignty and native title in Australia and New Zealand, Attwood stresses the importance of contingency and complexity in the first decades of British settlement on both sides of the Tasman Sea. His early chapters focus on the local and imperial contexts that shaped Crown approaches to Indigenous title in New South Wales, Port Phillip, and South Australia. The rest of the book provides a forensic account of the lead-up to and aftermath of the British assumption of sovereignty in New Zealand, and its shifting ramifications for legal arguments about Māori land title.

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The federal government’s intervention in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory is, above all, an exercise of power. It illustrates for all to see that the government can interfere with the smallest details of domestic life in a blatantly discriminatory way, regardless of Australia’s international obligations and professed belief in racial equality. It declares to the world that adult Aborigines can be treated like children. Both the present and previous government would argue, in a time-honoured way, that it is for the communities’ own good.

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