ABSTRACT

Everything about Aboriginal society is inextricably interwoven with, and connected to, the land. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, however, the idea of a landed interest was still so strong that the British in India construed local elites as the 'natural proprietors' of land, and tried to base their regime on a land-ownership deal. With the revival of indigenous movements in the late twentieth century in Canada, Australia, the Pacific, Mexico and other regions, land rights have become a major political issue. The author focuses on an important Australian study by Nancy Williams, The Yolngu and their Land. A group of Yolngu elders took the unprecedented step of launching a court case to stop the development, claiming that their community owned the land. The court’s judgment, delivered in 1971, went against the Yolngu. Nancy Williams goes to some lengths to prove that the judicial decision in the Yirrkala case was wrong in fact.