Rights and Redemption: History, Law and Indigenous Rights in Australia

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The paper examines the role of history in key Indigenous rights cases involving land rights, the stolen generation, genocide, the definition of Aboriginality in ATSIC elections, and the veracity of secret women’s business. These cases all occurred at a time when Indigenous rights and the place of Aboriginal people in the national story were repudiated in a variety of government laws and policies. The paper takes as its starting point the Mabo case, which first recognised Aboriginal traditional rights to land, and examines the relationship of law and history, and their divergent understandings of the past. It investigates how the courts have used historians as expert witnesses and how the colonial past has been framed and understood by the courts. It makes the claim that the struggles within the court have offered a platform for redemption for Indigenous Australians in surprising ways that are not necessarily related to the outcome of the cases.


Keywords: Law, History, Indigenous Rights, Legal Theory, Historical Theory
Stream: Politics, Public Policy and Law
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Dr. Ann Genovese

Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Melbourne
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Ann Genovese is senior lecturer, and ARC postdoctoral fellow, in law at the University of Melbourne. She is a lawyer, with a PhD in history, for which she won the inaugural Chancellors Award at UTS for excellence. Her research focussed on the theoretical and methodological relationship between law and history, and its impacts upon Australian law reform. Ann has also worked the Justice Research Centre, NSW. She researches in the areas of Australian law and history, feminist legal theory, and family law.

Alexander Reilly

Associate Professor, School of Law, University of Adelaide
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

I am an Associate Professor in the School of Law at the University of Adelaide. I teach and research in public law and Indigenous legal issues. My research focuses on good governance and the effective recognition of rights. My research into Indigenous rights has been concerned with how the law engages with Aboriginal culture, and with other academic disciplines including history, anthropology and cartography. Before moving to Adelaide, I completed an LLM at the University fo British Columbia (Canada) and worked at Murdoch University in Perth and Macquarie University in Sydney.

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