This Australian
Life

Our settlement history

Australia has a rich history of significant events that have shaped our country and made it what it is today. The First Australians (Indigenous Australians) arrived on these shores from Southeast Asia between 40,000 and 70,000 years ago. Theirs was the oldest living culture in the world. Their profound spiritual connection to land forms their culture. Land is their mother and the health of it and the water gives them a responsibility to care for it. They “feel the pain of the shapes of life in country as pain to the self” 

(‘Seeing the Light: Aboriginal Law, Learning and Sustainable Living in Country’, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Indigenous Law Bulletin May/June 2005, Volume 6, Issue 11.

The myth of Terra Nullius

In 1770, when Captain James Cook first explored the continent that became Australia, he reported back to the British that it would make a good place for a settlement. He claimed possession of the East Coast of Australia for Britain under the doctrine of ‘terra nullius’ (Latin expression meaning land belonging to no-one).

 

Eighteen years later in 1788 The British Government used this doctrine to claim Australia and set up a penal colony in which English laws applied. The British Government acted as if the land was uninhabited because, in their view, it was not cultivated land in the European sense – there were no roads, farms, towns or social structure of government.

 

This terrible doctrine, contrived under the late 18th century International law of Europe, ignored the rights and customary laws of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. The white settlers generally had a lack of understanding of, and disregard for, these customary laws. So, instead of admitting that it was invading land that belonged to the First Australians, Britain acted as it were settling an empty land. This is what is meant by the myth of terra nullius.

The ‘Birth Certificate’ of this nation – The Australian Constitution

In 1770, when Captain James Cook first explored the continent that became Australia, he reported back to the British that it would make a good place for a settlement. He claimed possession of the East Coast of Australia for Britain under the doctrine of ‘terra nullius’ (Latin expression meaning land belonging to no-one).

 

Eighteen years later in 1788 The British Government used this doctrine to claim Australia and set up a penal colony in which English laws applied. The British Government acted as if the land was uninhabited because, in their view, it was not cultivated land in the European sense – there were no roads, farms, towns or social structure of government.

 

This terrible doctrine, contrived under the late 18th century International law of Europe, ignored the rights and customary laws of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. The white settlers generally had a lack of understanding of, and disregard for, these customary laws. So, instead of admitting that it was invading land that belonged to the First Australians, Britain acted as it were settling an empty land. This is what is meant by the myth of terra nullius.