Environmental Science
articles by Will Kemp

Magic Mountain

Warning: this article contains names of Aboriginal people who have passed away.

Old man took me up the mountain, said ‘Son this is your life’,
Showed me all my spirit dreaming, why there’s so much strife
Healed the torment in my mind, pointed out the white man’s bull
In his old black natural way, he said “you’re half caste walking full”.
(Magic Mountain, Bobby McLeod)

Magic Mountain, by Bobby McLeod, is a country music song about the singer discovering his connection to country and culture as an Aboriginal person, and the effect that had on his life. Read the rest of this entry »

First Australians – “We are no longer shadows”

The key dimensions of colonization covered by this episode of the SBS television series, First Australians, are Indigenous dispossession and the myth of “terra nullius” which was used to rationalise it.

For over two hundred years, the legal fiction of terra nullius – i.e., the idea that nobody owned Australia when it was claimed by the British – was assumed to be the basis of the land tenure system in Australia. There were attempts to dispute the notion of terra nullius during those two centuries, but it wasn’t until the 1980s when convincing legal arguments were formulated (Reynolds 1992).

The judgement in the case of Mabo vs Qld in 1992 finally dismissed the doctrine of terra nullius and described it as contrary to fundamental common law values and international law (High Court of Australia 1992). This judgement meant that ownership of Australian land by Indigenous people had continued beyond colonization until the present day – except where it had been extinguished by land grants from the crown. Therefore, all crown land was available to be claimed by Indigenous people who could prove ownership. Read the rest of this entry »

Indigenous environmental management

Summaries and discussion of four peer reviewed papers

This article summarises and evaluates four peer reviewed papers which report on various aspects of Indigenous environmental management in Australia and overseas.

Carter, J L, and Hill, G E 2007, ‘Critiquing environmental management in indigenous Australia: two case studies’, Area, 39, 1, 43-54.
This paper compares two contrasting experiences of working with Aboriginal communities in northern Australia. The studies aimed to investigate the commercial potential of sea cucumber harvesting by Aboriginal communities. The author describes two different models of joint management of natural resources and compares the challenges of working with them. The models described are an Aboriginal owned land area and a co-managed national park.

The Aboriginal owned land area was managed by a community outstation resourcing agency (CORA), which made decisions by consensus at community meetings and resourced a ranger program. The co-managed national park area was managed by a board of management (BOM), which consisted of one member of each of the four clan groups represented, along with four senior public servants. The BOM was chaired by a traditional owner who had the casting vote.

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The movie

On one level, Avatar is just more of the same mushy, melodramatic, commercial fare that Hollywood churns out all the time. However, the underlying plot is interesting in its portrayal of a scenario that has played out all over the Earth many times throughout history. It is a movie about colonization, the plunder of natural resources, and the dispossession of indigenous people.

The colonisers are portrayed as a mix of soldiers, scientists and miners. These characters are a divided up into “goodies” and “baddies”. Good scientists and good soldiers, bad soldiers and bad miners. The standard plot – baddie turns goodie, falls in love, nearly dies, and then kills the chief baddie and saves the world – is interspersed with a narrative of indigenous connection to the environment and their opposition to dispossession and environmental destruction, which loosely parallels the experiences of real indigenous people and their struggles for survival. However, in this movie, the indigenous people win and the colonisers go home – which is a scenario that is rarely seen in real life. Read the rest of this entry »