Landscapes: the Journal of the International Centre for Landscape and Language


Adam Newcombe


Terra nullius is a Latin expression deriving from Roman law meaning „land belonging to no one‟ or no man's land. The concept was used in international law to describe territory which has never been subject to the sovereignty of any state, or over which any prior sovereign has expressly or implicitly relinquished sovereignty. Implying an empty land, a land with no people, land as property with no owner, terra nullius is possibly the greatest legal travesty and fabrication ever enacted on an invaded people. This paper will attempt to make a little sense of what and why this has happened and the fundamental misunderstandings that underpins the state of modern Australia and the impact this continuing misunderstanding is having on indigenous and non-indigenous relationships in this country. The recent violent reaction at the Aboriginal tent embassy in Canberra is symptomatic of the convoluted misunderstandings triggered by the arrival of European settlers in 1788. That was a cry of rage no matter what anybody thinks about the method. But a rage of loss; with greater understanding comes hope and bridges and repair.


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