Changing it and changing with it. The land was not just soil or rocks or minerals, but a whole environment that sustains, and is sustained, by people and culture.
"I feel with my body. Feeling all these trees, all this country. When this blow you can feel it. Same for country... you feel it, you can look, but feeling... that make you."
Big Bill Neidjie, Gagudju Elder, Kakadu.
For Indigenous Australians the land is the core of all spirituality and this relationship has been deeply misunderstood over the past 200 years or so. This relationship is central to all issues that are important to Indigenous people today.
When European colonisers first arrived in Australia they encountered an unfamiliar land occupied by people they didn't understand. As they didn't understand the peoples' society and their land 'ownership' system, Australia was deemed to be 'terra nullius' and the land was claimed by the British. However Indigenous people fought, and are still fighting, for their land and their lives. The history of these battles is not often told but they involved hundreds of incidents and thousands of people. These stories form a part of the untold history of Australia.
"It is my father's land, my grandfather's land, my grandmother's land. I am related to it, it give me my identity. If I don't fight for it, then I will be moved out of it and [it] will be the loss of my identity."
Father Dave Passi, Plaintiff, 'Mabo' Case in 'Land bilong Islander' 1990
The history of the struggle for land rights goes back to the earliest days of the European occupation of Australia. These struggles too were often resolved through violence as Indigenous people were progressively dispossessed of their land.
The struggle for land rights continues today through the legal and political systems. Some important legal milestones have been reached which show that arrangements based on cultural sensitivity and respect can be successful for all Australians.
What is Native Title?
"It is imperative in today's world that the common law should neither be nor be seen to be frozen in an age of racial discrimination."
From the High Court's judgement on the Native Title or 'Mabo' Case, 1992.
On 3 June 1992 the High Court of Australia handed down its decision in Mabo vs The State of Queensland, ruling that the treatment of Indigenous property rights based on the principle of terra nullius was wrong and racist.
The Court ruled that Indigenous ownership of land has survived where it has not been extinguished by a valid act of government and where Aboriginal people have maintained traditional law and links with the land. This legal recognition of Indigenous ownership is called Native Title. The Court ruled that in each case native title must be determined by reference to the traditions and customary law of the Indigenous owners of the land.