On 22 March 1984, the South Australian Government enacted the Maralinga Tjarutja Land Rights Act 1984 (SA). For the Anungu people of the Great Victorian Desert, it was the culmination of a long struggle to achieve legal title to their traditional lands.
That struggle commenced with imposition of a foreign legal system, which at the time did not recognise their traditional rights to land. In the 1930s, the United Aborigines Mission established a settlement at Oldea, and a 5,200 sqkm reserve was established by the Government, allowing the Anungu to remain on their traditional Country and to continue their traditional lifestyle. However, in 1952, the United Aborigines Mission at Oldea was closed, the reserve was degazetted, and the Anangu were moved over 100km away to Yalata on the west coast of South Australia. Their traditional Country was shortly after used as an atomic bomb test site and access to their homelands was then restricted.
The events that led to the return of the Maralinga land is primarily the story of the Anangu people. While Hiskey’s work is an account of the negotiations from a legal representative’s perspective, it draws on documents that record the contemporaneous views and aspirations of community leaders. In doing so, it also provides an account of the Anangu peoples’ resilience, perseverance, and deep concerns over the need to protect sites of significance, and the cultural values and aspirations of the community to secure title to their Country. It is also revealing of the difficulties for lawyers representing communities in political negotiations of this kind.
Maralinga: The Struggle for Return of Lands provides an important addition to the history of the Anangu people, the injustices of the nuclear testing at Maralinga, and the subsequent measures to remedy that injustice. It will be of interest to historians, legal practitioners, and those generally interested Aboriginal affairs and social justice.
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