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Ritter, David --- "Book Review - Wik, Mining and Aborigines" [1999] IndigLawB 86; (1999) 4(24) Indigenous Law Bulletin 22

Book review

Wik, Mining and Aborigines

by Paul Kauffman

Allen and Unwin,1998, 208pp RRP $24.95

Reviewed by David Ritter

Australia now has an institutional history of negotiations between mining and petroleum interests and indigenous people for the use of their traditional country. Those who work in the field are always keen to learn from the experiences of others. Accordingly, a book like Paul Kauffman's Wik, Mining and Aborigines has an eager and specialised target audience, and the author is to be commended for endeavouring to meet this need. Regrettably though, Kauffman's work suffers from certain frustrating shortcomings that significantly reduce its value.

The structure of Kauffmans work is sound enough. He commences with a broad introduction followed by chapters devoted to the legal context of negotiations in the Northern Territory and each of the states. He then makes a chronological survey of negotiated agreements dating from before the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act 1976 (Cth) right up to recent native title agreements. Within this framework, Kauffman provides a much-needed glossary of some of the better known negotiated agreements between resource and indigenous interests throughout Australia. The work also provides useful information on how to obtain further details about these agreements.

Unfortunately, even at the level of the book's tide, problems begin to emerge. Simply put, the book is not about the Wik case. The book's treatment of Wik and the 'Ten Point Plan' appear to have been hastily grafted onto an existing manuscript in a bid to give the work extra topicality. Ironically, the effect has instead been to date the book immediately, since the Commonwealth's amendments to the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) were already in place prior to the book's publication date.

Wik, Mining and Aborigines is a strangely uncritical work which suffers from an over-reliance on generalisations. Many would take issue, for example, with Kauffmars somewhat unreflective assertion that ‘[t]he Murrin Murrin project shows how a regional agreement with all Aboriginal native tide claimants can successfully be established...’[1] The work simply lacks the element of rigorous critique that the subject in question properly merits.

There are technical problems too. Kauffman footnotes irregularly, often citing sources without a footnote.[2] The book also contains various careless factual errors.[3] The Index is extremely bare. The book's treatment of legal issues is also problematic, as for instance in his discussion of the Waanyi litigation[4] which is imprecise and ill-directed and borders on being wrong.

The concluding chapter is perhaps the book's greatest disappointment. Kauffman does not say why he cites particular agreements for elements of his 'Model of Australian Best Practice'. His 'Model for Mining Agreements' is straight from Normandy Mining, and under 'Emerging Principles' Kauffman largely just recites (again uncritically) the policy position of the Northern Land Council.

Wik, Mining and Aborigines is clearly being marketed to the broad reading public. This is to be applauded, but the target has probably been missed. Most of Wik, Mining and Aborigines is probably not of interest to the general reader, yet it also fails many of the tests of an expert work. The book was a very good idea at a very appropriate time, but its execution has not lived up to the promise of its theme. Readers can hopefully look forward to an expanded and revised second edition.

David Ritter is Principal Legal Officer at the Yamatdi Land and Sea Council in Western Australia.

[1] p 120.

[2] eg the reference to O’Faircheallaigh’s study on page 98.

[3] eg footnote 239, which presumably should read ‘Richmond’ not ‘Richards’.

[4] p 135.

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