Australian Screen

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After Mabo (1997)

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clip Fiction of terra nullius education content clip 1, 2, 3

Original classification rating: M. This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

Peter Yu of the Yawuru and Bunuba, Kimberley Land Council, talks about Indigenous relationship to land and the High Court decision in Mabo v Queensland (No 2) (1992) 175 CLR 1. Paul Keating stresses the chance to legislate away the fiction of terra nullius, offering a truth rather than a lie as the basis for policy. Images show Indigenous people on the land and in the meeting room. A title states, 'From September 1992 until December 1993 Indigenous people entered intense negotiations with the Federal Parliament to incorporate Native Title into legislation’.

Curator’s notes

After Mabo quickly establishes the parameters of its narratives: the movement between Western and Indigenous perspectives on land. The documentary provides a good comparison between the different approaches to the treatment of Indigenous native title by the Labor Keating Government and the Liberal Howard Government that succeeded it in 1996.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

The clip shows Indigenous leaders Peter Yu and Noel Pearson discussing Indigenous rights to land and the native title legislation that was introduced by the Labor government under prime minister Paul Keating after the Mabo decision in 1992. It includes the government’s rationale and a discussion of the effect on pastoral leases. There is black-and-white archival footage of the parliamentary explanation by Keating and of Rick Farley speaking on behalf of the National Farmers Federation about the new law. The clip includes music and sound effects.

Educational value points

  • The clip emphasises that the native title legislation, in recognising traditional ownership of land and waters, was a major positive change in Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationships in Australia. The then chairperson of ATSIC, Lois (now Lowitja) O’Donoghue, is quoted as saying that the legislation gives a new political voice to Indigenous people. Keating describes it as an opportunity to base relationships on truth rather than on the fiction of terra nullius, which claimed that the land had no owners before 1788.
  • In this clip Indigenous leaders prior to the native title legislation describe their fears of losing rights due to the proposed suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act, which had been passed in 1975. Noel Pearson and Peter Yu explain their opposition to the proposed suspension, saying that no Indigenous leader was authorised to surrender the protection of that Act. Such input is presented as leading to the Keating compromise, which left the Racial Discrimination Act intact.
  • The clip emphasises the effect of the proposed native title legislation on pastoral leaseholds as discussed in the lead-up to the legislation in 1993. Archival footage shows Paul Keating stating in parliament the advice that pastoral leases would extinguish native title ‘to the extent of any inconsistency’ between pastoral rights and Indigenous rights. National Farmers Federation executive director Rick Farley expressed support for the legislation as giving greater certainty regarding land tenure.
  • This clip begins with an ongoing Indigenous perspective on land that is independent of any Western perspective embodied in legislation. Peter Yu, a Yawru man and Kimberley Land Council member, states that the land is always ‘our land’, and prime minister Paul Keating’s use of the word ‘truth’ acknowledges the truth of this. This emphasis on an Indigenous perspective sets the tone for the film, which contributed to the Wik debate in 1997.
  • Paul Keating’s pivotal role in promoting the native title legislation is highlighted, and the clip uses archival footage of Keating addressing the parliament in 1993. He speaks of legislating terra nullius away, presents revised draft legislation and discusses the effect of the proposed legislation on pastoral leaseholds. Keating’s Labor government also set up the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation.
  • The clip includes a range of techniques to present the debates over the Native Title Bill. Montages of images of rock, soil, water and corrugated iron are used to evoke a sense of a recognisable and diverse Australia. Natural sounds such as bird song and storm sounds are combined with music to add drama and tension. Colour overlays help convey a sense of the many Indigenous people whose experiences lie behind the legislation.

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  • You may download materials for your personal use or for non-commercial educational purposes, but you must not publish them elsewhere or redistribute clips in any way.
  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

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