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.
Aboriginal Land Rights, a handbook, edited by Nicholas Peterson, will no doubt become a standard text for those seeking an understanding of this complex phenomenon and while the volume contains a splendid array of factual material, the blandness of the editorial pen has removed one critically important dimension from the volume: Aboriginal perceptions. Their distress at loss of land, their anger at the tardiness of restitution and their ambivalence about the white experts who plead their cause and cases are absent. However, at the May 1980 AIAS biennial conference, the occasion for which the papers in the handbook were prepared, this was not the case.