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Nettheim, Garth --- "Book Review - Take Power, Like this Old Man Here: An anthology celebrating twenty years of land rights in Central Australia, 1977 - 1997" [1999] IndigLawB 84; (1999) 4(24) Indigenous Law Bulletin 21

Book Review-

Take Power, Like this Old Man Here:
An anthology celebrating twenty years of land rights in Central Australia, 1977-1997

edited by Alexis Wright

Jukurrpa Books, IAD Press, Alice Springs, 1998 366 pp. RRP $24.95

reviewed by Garth Nettheim

The twentieth anniversary of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976(Cth) was a notable milestone which was marked in various ways, including a major conference in Canberras Old Parliament House organised by the Central and Northern Land Councils. This book was published for the Central Land Council as part of the celebration.

The Bill for the Act was based on the report for the Commonwealth Government by Sir Edward Woodward. It was introduced into Old Parliament House by the Whitlam Government and enacted (with some amendments) under the Fraser Government in 1976. In 1983, it received a generally positive review by justice John Toohey in his report Seven Years On... In 1987, it was amended in significant ways under the Hawke Government to accommodate some of the pressures generated by industry and the Northern Territory Government. Under the Howard Government, the 1998 Reeves Report proposed very substantial changes to the legislation, including the break-up of the major land councils. Aboriginal people throughout the Northern Territory as well as former Liberal Cabinet Ministers Ian Viner, Malcolm Fraser, Ian Wilson, Peter Baume and Fred Chaney have voiced intense opposition to these proposals.[1] An important parliamentary committee has also expressed its concern.[2]

So, at this point, the appearance of this anthology is particularly welcome to give a human face to the two decades of experience under the Act, ‘on the ground’ in Central Australia.

The authors and contributors number more than 80, and include lawyers, politicians, senior Aboriginal men and women, and others. The contributions are mostly short, and are very readable. They are grouped under the following headings:

Every reader will have his or her own favourites from the collection. When the book was launched at the Kalkaringi Convention in Central Australia in August 1998, Senator Nick Bolkus read out, to the amusement of those present, the football story told by Owen Cole about Tracker Tilmouth.[3]

Generally, the book achieves its purpose in indicating why the Land Rights Act was so important to the Aboriginal people of Central Australia, and how difficult it was to obtain results, especially in the face of the unremitting opposition which successive Territory Governments have displayed towards the aspirations of Aboriginal people and to their Land Councils.

Highly recommended.

Garth Nettheim is Emeritus Professor at the Indigenous Law Centre, University of New South Wales

[1] See I Viner, 'Whither Landd rights in the Northern Territory, Whither Self-Determination' (1999) 4 (1) AILR 1.

[2] House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Unlocking the Future: The Report of the Inquiry into the Reeves Review of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, Commonwealth Parliament, Canberra, August, 1999.

[3] Pp 921.

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