When we first read Henry Reynolds - Law of the Land published 1987 - we were shocked by the reference to 'sado masochistic Sunday afternoon hunting parties', and of 'childrens skulls smashed in'. This was Tasmania of 19th and 18th century colonial times that Julia Gillard euphemistically calls "settlement" surely not realising the unintended fiction - at the hands of brutalised convicts doing the British Govt's dirty work. As eloquently argued by many since it would take a triumph of willful blindess for we the Australian ancestral benefactors of the active theft or inheritors via disease and violence to quiet the whispering in our hearts, just as the UK Govt with the remoteness of distance might effectively ignore the truth.
We wove that 1987 book into our honours law thesis in 1989 called A Legal Foundation for Aboriginal Land Rights around the nascent concept of Native Title which was in fact recognised by the High Court of Australia 3 years later in Dec 1992. The famous Mabo Case and surely a hero of the age. But in 1989 we never quite nailed down what Australia was legally because the British empire had officially 'conquered' some of their global dominion in which case local people's land law continued in some form say under a treaty like Waitangi in NZ, and 'settled' other 'empty' land. But Australia seemed to be "sui generis" which is latin meaning "one of a kind" mentioned in some of the writings in dusty old common law cases from India and South Africa.
Now we conclude Australia was neither empty/settled or peopled/conquered in the minds of the UK seat of government. We personally have no doubt it was a covert creeping invasion and consquest using convicts as the catspaw of the Empire. It was invaded by convict criminals sent in with sickness and violence to clear out whatever they came across. All very convenient and racist to not even formalise an international legal categorisation for the hapless Aborigines who lived so very close to nature.
In 1993-4 we played an active role at least here in NSW in reforming The Wilderness Society's national approach to such issues into a quite strong and ethical Land & Rights Policy which prefaced alliances over such campaigns in Starcke and Jabiluka of the 1990ies with Traditional Aboriginal owners of land. (We were not the instigator of such a reform, rather this was a couple Larry and Marg from memory, but we loved the change.) This was in a time when Noel Pearson was pretty friendly to the non govt group too.
The essence of the TWS reformed policy was to recognise large intact natural areas known as wilderness under the NSW 1987 legislation as in fact Indigenous land, and secondly while never walking away from the goal to conserve such lands, to never seek to pre emtively extinguish that traditional, custodial Indigenous history in any deal making with other stakeholders in land such as govt, agri or other resource extraction industries.
One implication of that huge symbolic shift was that it could theoretically involve the TWS both supporting a native title holder's ownership and at the same time campaigning against them if they sought to act as a vandalistic black developer of crucial conservation values. This was a risk deemed essential in a new moral path for the green movement and for the nation post Mabo. It felt right and it was right.
5 years later 1997 we realised the game of covert extinguishment was still under way in NSW but this time by the NSW Govt Depts, farmers and also either using or willingly with the aid of certain green groups.
Indeed the name of the game in conservative politics under the federal Howard govt was extinguishment of the Mabo legal test of 'ongoing physical connection with the land' and in the most redneck parts of the nation it looked like the bulldozer was the preferred method as here in Qld:
And not just the bulldozer to ensure extinguishment of native title with ongoing agri industry pressure on govt for corporate welfare via freeholding of govt leasehold land to the non indigenous squattocracy of the Western Division here:
And the farmers had their reasons to seek out their "bucket loads of extinguishment" as the Howard Govt proudly expressed in Federal Parliament, if they didn't care about the morals, because they knew they were being stalked legally after Mabo and after the Wik case earlier like this report dated April 2000:
This particular legal saga was trashed by the High Court of Australia in August 2002 as explained here [pdf file]
eventually raising the question whether all that pre emptive land clearing was really needed in either NSW (see one report of the sorry landclearing detail here) or Qld (above) up to that point.
In 1997 the green groups were not to know how the legals would work out not least after the Federal Court decision in favour of the native title claim relevant to a huge areas of western NSW.
It was in this context that the 'leaders' of the NSW green movement were summonsed to this:
We particularly remember Jeff Angel blessing these endeavours by Jamie Piddock and being "very impressed" for franchising the idea of "clearing tradeoffs" by farmers. Jeff's blessing some 10 years ago is in stark contrast to some quotes in the press last Saturday Dec 15th 07 (below). Not a mention of native title extinguishment. Not a mention except by this writer as confirmed by the contemporaneous notes of the time. Here is Piddock's briefing note of this 'environmental' initiative to keep the farmers happy, and sideline the Blacks altogether (and note our very bad handwriting):
Our alarm at this attempt to promote trade offs of one area of native bush for another, after 200 years of land clearing and a general scientific understanding that no more land clearing was desirable in Australia at all, let alone to extinguish critical historical native title rights, and with a green stamp on them was pretty much ignored. This was a shameful day for the NSW green movment with Jeff Angel ascendant. Hence the careful notation of the documentation and signature and dating by hand above. Angel in particular should account for this (while Jamie Piddock is God knows where). Not least because he was busy on ABC radio last Saturday morning Dec 15th and in the Sydney Morning Herald with pretty much the direct opposite view against exactly this kind of 'bio banking tradeoff land clearing in favour of regional conservation outcomes' which the govt jargon for green lighting, greenwashing developer bush clearance.
In principle 1997 good, 2007 bad? Western NSW 'Black Land' good. Sydney urban bushland bad? Go figure. This may be what Jeff Angel said on 702 on air to be 'good in principle, its the implementation that matterrs'.
Angel is clearly right in 2007. But he was woefully wrong in 1997 so what's changed? Bob Carr is no longer premier is one significant factor. The ascendancy of the far more independent and fiesty Green Party is another.
Are you reading this Warren Mundine, prominent in the NSW ALP?
Some of us have a long memory about such things and we can prove it. Here is some of our confidential briefing notes of that shameful May 12 1997 cave in to redneck land clearing deal to further oust the Blacks from the Western Division: