The twentieth anniversary of Mabo (and the reason I need to change the name of this blog)

by Rhodri C. Williams

It is twenty years this week since the High Court of Australia overturned an odious legal doctrine that happens to share the name of this blog. Although the name of the blog has always been meant to reflect the abstract meaning of this term (‘no mans land’, reflecting the contested nature of land and territorial issues in both in international law and national practice), I have remained uncomfortable with it throughout due to the concrete meaning lurking down under. As a tribute to the unpretentious man who brought this doctrine crashing down, I hereby pledge to rename this blog in a manner both un-confusing and inoffensive within the next few weeks (readers are free to submit suggestions).

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7 responses to “The twentieth anniversary of Mabo (and the reason I need to change the name of this blog)

  1. I think “No Man’s Land” itself would be a great name. Something tells me it’s already taken, but if not, you might give it a thought.

  2. You could call it ‘Nicija Zemlja’ – a whole different connotation

  3. You could call it Terra Incognita – it is without doubt an area where dragons and seamonsters lurk.

  4. But I don’t think you need to apologise for Terra Nullius – it’s an edgy title that’s fruitful to reflect on – and a useful reminder of what can happen when different legal systems collide. Our forebears saw the world according to their own conceptual categories – sovereignty meant hierarchical organisation, and land ownership meant cultivation. Not fitting into those categories, indigenous Australians were invisible, legally speaking.

    The fact that it took us 200 years to update our concepts had, of course, everything to do with naked self-interest. But isn’t that the usual function of land law everywhere – to protect the dominant economic interests and the existing (mal)distribution of property?

    Anyway, a good occasion to salute Eddie Mabo and the Australian High Court for showing that it doesn’t always have to be that way.

  5. Thanks Marcus, lots to reflect on. And quite right on land law, up to a point – to me the edginess of this topic lies precisely in the fact that land law can also seek to upend the status quo (e.g. land reform or recognition of indigenous rights) – but that the dominant post-conflict model (in the form of the Pinheiro Principles) has until recently been corrective in your sense of favoring the status quo ante.

  6. Pingback: Whats in a name? TN reconsidered… | TerraNullius

  7. Pingback: Terra Nullius no more – Australia approaches constitutional recognition of its indigenous population | TerraNullius

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