Constructing Law, Space, and their Subjects:
Landscape, Topography and Culture

3 of 20

Competing Visions of the Australian Landscape

The following excerpt from Paul Carter's The Road to Botany Bay (London: Faber and Faber, 1987) was highlighted by Blomley:

"Seeing that he [the Aborigine] did not classify it, did not distinguish it from other places, seeing that he did not seem to know 'it' as a 'place', could he be said to understand the notion of possession at all? And, if his grasp of it were so tenuous, so local, so incapable of generalization, then it was hardly a crime to take possession of it. The Whites did not, in this sense, possess the Aborigine's country, any more than they spoke his language. They possessed a country of which the Aborigine was unaware."

Blomley explains, "To the dominant society, such a "spatial deficiency" was quickly seen as a "legal deficiency". (p.54)

Consider this excerpt from The Road to Botany Bay by Paul Carter on the Aborigines spatial command of the country which presented the greatest threat to white interests:

The refusal to live in one place, and hence to be accountable, was the major obstacle to the process of civilizing ... For theirs was a world of travelling, where succession, rather than stasis, was the natural order of things: succession as a spatial, rather than temporal, phenomenon. (p. 336)

It was not that the Aborigines were unorganized, only that their power was distributed horizontally, dynamically. Their wandering did indeed constitute a 'state'- a form of social and political organization. (p. 336)

Eyre wrote "... the very regions, which, in the eyes of the European, are most barren and worthless, are to the native the most valuable and productive." (p. 344)

For the Alyawarra, boundary sites lie at the centre of things, not at their periphery. The idea of the boundary area as 'points capable of confirmation by means of a visual survey from a single position on the ground' is, Moyle says, 'foreign to Alyawarra thinking'. (p. 345)

Aboriginal ways of thinking about the world they inhabit, their historical space, have been increasingly clarified by recent anthropologists. Tindale might have felt a methodological need to plot aboriginal 'boundaries' on the unhistoried space of the white map, but as he himself notes elsewhere, when he questioned Aborigines about their territories, they tended to describe them as a succession of camp-sites. As they spoke, they might draw a line, a way, rather than a circled territory. The last and the first camp-site might be the same place, but they were represented at opposite ends of the line. (p. 345)

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