Kevin Bell reviews 'The Land is our History: Indigeneity, law, and the settler state' by Miranda Johnson

Australia’s national identity is as complex as the people who make up the nation and the historical forces by which it was made. Our Indigenous peoples, whose unique histories precede the nation’s by more than fifty thousand years, are central to that identity. A century ago, making those statements would have been virtually unthinkable to most, such was the dominance of exclusionary colonial bigotry. For the mind-space to experience national identity more inclusively, we in the modern era owe much to the extra-ordinary activism of those peoples after World War II. From a deeply comparative and historical perspective, this book narrates and celebrates that activism, which has occurred not only in Australia but also in Canada and New Zealand.

Miranda Johnson is a lecturer in history at the University of Sydney. We have here her auspicious first book, The Law Is Our History: Indigeneity, law, and the settler state, which is ambitious in scope, yet readable and concise in style. It is based on years of research and several extensive periods of scholarship-supported residence in the states concerned. To read this book is to engage with three important interrelated themes: the common historical forces by which the Commonwealth settler-states were made; the impact of colonialism upon the social and political organisation of their indigenous peoples; and how the modern activism of those peoples has reshaped and is reshaping those states.

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Published in May 2017, no. 391