19th century Aboriginal 'land rights campaign'
Historian Heather Goodall has summarised what she describes as an Aboriginal 'land rights campaign' in New South Wales in the final quarter of the nineteenth century:
Community after community in the south-west and on the coast chose similar solutions to the pressures they all faced. Aborigines began to re-occupy their land. They 'squatted' on small areas, built shelters, planted crops and then demanded that the Government give them secure tenure... They wanted it, not just for economic reasons, but also to secure their access to areas that were within their traditional country...
Aborigines were asking for full freehold and independent ownership, although they sometimes pointed out that they did not want the power to sell the land. What they received instead were 'reserves for the use of Aborigines'. As was to happen all too often, an Aboriginal demand was watered down and distorted by the Government so that the end result benefited the Government as much as, if not more than, the Aborigines. At the same time, however, Aborigines were told that the reserves would be secure as long as they continued to live there and farm the land.
Through the 1870s to 1884, twenty-nine Aboriginal reserves were created, all in the south-west or along the coast. Twenty-five of these were created on Aboriginal initiative... By 1895, another eighty-five reserves had been created, forty-seven of them on Aboriginal initiatives...
There were few demands for land from Aborigines in the north-west and far-west pastoral areas at this time. This was not because they were less attached to their land, but because they were not yet being squeezed off it.
Keywords: land ownership, land rights, 1870-1895
Goodall, H 'Crying out for land rights', 'Staining the Wattle', Burgmann V and Lee V (eds), Penguin, pp 183-5.
Author: Rowse, Tim and Graham, Trevor
Source: Goodall, Heather