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Reynolds On Terra Nullius
Reynolds On Terra Nullius,

Professor Henry Reynolds wrote:

'European powers adopted the view that countries without political organisation, recognisable systems of authority or legal codes could legitimately be annexed. It was a case of supplying sovereignty where none existed. Writing in the early 19th century the American jurist James Kent summed up several hundred years of colonial practice in North America where "an ascendancy" was asserted over the Indians "in consequence of the superior genius of the Europeans, founded on civilisation and Christianity, and of their superiority in the means and the act of war". The rights of European powers to carve out spheres of influence were strongly asserted by international lawyers in the late 19th century as competition for colonies intensified. J. Westlake argued in 1904 that because indigenous societies were "unable to supply a government suited to white men" they could not be "credited with sovereignty". In his The Principles of International Law of 1895, T. J. Lawrence asserted that all territory "not in the possession of states who are members of the family of nations" must be considered "as technically terra nullius and therefore open to occupation".'

'The British claim of sovereignty over the whole of Australia between 1788 and 1829 was not surprising given the attitudes of European powers. It would have been unexceptionable at any time in the 19th century. The claim to the ownership of every inch of land was another matter altogether.'
Keywords: annexation, barbarism, British law, International law, ownership, property law, Reynolds, Henry (Prof.), sovereignty, terra nullius, United States of America

'The Law of the Land', 1987. Still: Henry Reynolds. 'Walking Together, Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation', November 1998.
© Penguin Books Australia
Source: Reynolds, Henry