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Aboriginal Laws Arrow Vol 1 No 2 Contents
About borderlands Volume 1 Number 2, 2002


Aboriginal Laws and the
Sovereignty of Terra Nullius

Irene Watson

1. I want to begin with a story and a return to the beginning when there lived a giant frog. This frog drank all the water until there was none left. The creeks, lagoons, rivers, lakes, and even the oceans dried up. As the animals grew thirsty they came together to find a way to get the frog to release the waters back to the land. They decided the only way was to make the frog laugh, and they did this. When the frog laughed it released the water, and then the community realised it had to turn the large frog into a smaller one, so that it could no longer dominate and would be brought to share equally with all other living beings.

2. In presenting this essay I speak as a survivor of the frog’s greed and its colonising powers of terra nullius, in all of its past, present and contemporary incarnations. The racist colonising theory terra nullius, despite its ‘rejection’ in the Mabo decision, continues to find new global forms to embody itself. Acting in ways, which continue to deny the inherent sovereignty of Nunga - Aboriginal peoples laws of place.

3. This denial of the sovereignty of Aboriginal laws breaches all ‘ideals’ of international human ‘rights’. The overlaying of the imposed legal systems of Australian federal and state governments, deny pre-existing Aboriginal laws that have lived in this land from the beginning. The imposed legal system and policies of assimilation are an attempt to subjugate Nungas to the power of the colonial state. Australia is a place taken without the consent of the ‘natives’ - with no treaty or agreements ever signed - where terra nullius filled a lawless void, is now hungry to construe our consent to the theft of our lands and the genocide of our peoples.

4. Now post-Mabo and the ‘death’ of terra nullius, questions lay at the feet of the Australian state. What legitimises your entry? Do you still require the consent of the natives? And if we give it to you now what meaning will you or I give to that agreement? For who will hold the colonising state and its growing globalised identity to honour and respect our laws, territories and right to life? No one has in the past.

5. Will there be a treaty agreement that is negotiated from a place of equality? For a place of equality to exist first we need to be returned to who we were before the coming of Cook. We must reclaim our being as independent nations, in control of our territories where we live under our laws of respect for all things with our relationship to the natural world. If we were to have all of that returned to us what would be left to agree to? Peaceful co-existence perhaps.

6. As we know, to reach a place of equality is big. Most people consider it a romantic ideal, or the dream of fanatics, or sickly referred to as a ‘wet dream’, by one Aboriginal political lobbyist who I will not name. It may be, but the current reality in the life of Nungas, and the struggle to survive as intact Nunga peoples demands it. The alternative is to be vanished, to extinguishment. So this treaty speak has many dimensions to it. One is: until we reach a place of the fullness of equality, we will remain in the business of burying the dead and struggling to save Nunga lives from the ongoing struggle against genocide.

7. Agreements entered into that are not based on equal recognition of our international identities as sovereign peoples, will be agreements that are contained by the ‘domestic paradigm’, that is: they will be agreed to within the power context of the state. (See Schulte-Tenckhoff,1998:239) Many will suggest that’s the political, economic globalised reality. And yes. But it is one, which kills indigenous peoples. So yes we need to put in place different realities. Different ways of knowing from the ways of the west.

8. Agreements, which have evolved so far within the Australian domestic paradigm, include the recently negotiated Indigenous Land Usage Agreements. These agreements are mandated by the Native Title Act. Consider the reality of the unequal power of Nunga communities in contrast to the state and powerful corporations. And consider the ‘stolen generations’ decision in Cubbillo, where one of the applicants Peter Gunner argued that his removal was an act of genocide. Gunner’s application was in part defeated by the court’s determination, that the thumb-print of his mother was evidence of her consent to his removal and his subsequent abuse. This is an example of the state constructing the ‘unworthy victim’, which Trask speaks of but is also an example of the power of the state to construct consent. My question is: will Indigenous Land Usage agreements in the future stand as agreements where Nungas have given consent to the violations of our laws, lands and natural resources, and like Gunner’s case our own genocide?

9. I will return to Cook’s arrival on our shores. At that time and from thereon Aboriginal laws were and are still being breached. For example:

asking permission to enter the country

submitting to the Aboriginal laws of place

paying the rent or making a contribution to the community of place, for the use of land, water, and a lifestyle that has murdered ours as it eats into the future of us all.

10. These are basic common courtesies expected of international relationships between nations. They are certainly the base protocols that are expected amongst and between indigenous peoples. They are protocols that have not only been seriously breached since the time of Cook but they are deemed by the state to not even exist. In the place of respect for law, we have, what has become almost a principle of corporatist ‘best practise’. That is to get away with the maximum in terms of negative recognition of Nunga peoples laws, lands and well-being. It is a practise of the frog - one of enlargement - that has now gone global.

11. In response to violations we have experienced in the loss of an entire continent and every other human disaster imaginable, the state has responded

through a discussion on reconciliation

the creation of native title rights, based on the validation of the act of state and the state’s right to acquire territory through the extinguishment of native title

the yet to come apology from government.

12. The process of reconciliation is the dream of every frog as it continues slurping the water, and as Wole Soyinka (1999) argues: ‘at the end … absolution is granted without penalty or forfeit’. Unless we are to become somehow somewhere, ‘the worthy victim’, that Huanani Trask speaks of in her essay in this collection.

13. In my truth reconciliation will not even begin to occur until there is a return of what has been stolen from us. And it must be returned along with a dismantling of the unequal power of the frog. The return of our nationhood, lands, culture, laws and our health and our well-being is the necessary basis for our survival.The Australian state retains control over Nunga territory, the ruwi (land) of my ancestors, through a power, which mantles a white Australian homogenous identity, over nunganess. The colonisers perceived this Nunga place as available to be filled with their ‘beginnings’ of history, and ‘evolving spirit’.

14. Their new empire state was theorised by ‘great white men’ as being part of an evolutionary process, which would shift the centre of civilisation from Europe, moving further west to the lands of Great Turtle Island America. Their civilising mission veered southward to this continent, our old peoples’ ruwi, to this place where they perceived their violent invasion would bring their evolved spirit to a place free and open to ‘discovery’, like a virgin awaiting their penetration. But they came to a place where there was Nunga history, songs and stories of spirit-law, embodied and encoded in land and the greater natural world and universal order of things. As the first white people walked to the shore the old people thought they were spirits returning (when we smoked our dead before burial their skin peeled away leaving a colour like the white man) and they were accordingly called ‘Krinkris’. The krinkris imposed violence, in all its forms, rendering our life and our laws pre-historic, invisible, un-evolved in time, in presence terra nullius.

15. They viewed our laws of ruwi as pre-historic ancient tribal systems, and exotic customs. In the overall futuristic planning of things our ways of life were to become outpaced by the ‘functional, objective qualities and inherent rationality’ of their state. A parallel process to bringing their ‘rules’ exists in the way the state was part of ‘the march of God in the world’. (See Dallmayr, 1991: 330) For Aboriginal peoples were viewed as being at the initial stages of their inevitable evolution to becoming a state, for it was ‘known’ that ‘world history takes account only of peoples that form a state’. (Hegel cited in McCarney 2000: 154) The intent of our disappearance had been set and made lawful. For we were the unacknowledged enemy?

16. Our laws of ruwi are ancient. They come from a time the old ones called Kaldowinyeri - the dreaming. A place of lawfulness, a time before, a time now, and a time yet coming to us. A time when the first songs were sung, as they sang the law. Laws were birthed as were the ancestors - out of the land and the songs and stories recording our beginnings and birth connections to homelands and territories now known as Australia. Our laws are lived as a way of life; they are not written down as the knowledge of the law comes through the living of it. Law is lived, sung, danced, painted, eaten, walked upon, and loved; law lives in all things.

17. Aboriginal Law holds the position of the European idea of sovereignty. But is different in that it is not imposed by force of arms and is not exclusive in its embrace. All peoples come into the laws of place as they come into ruwi, even krinkris, but the greater majority has no sense or recognition of laws of place as they are controlled by the idea of sovereignties of state and other growing global identities. Laws of ruwi and the first peoples are its carriers as they are the caretakers of both ruwi and law. Law is in all things. It has no inner or outer, for one is all, all is one. Law is what holds this world together.

18. The experience lived before the time of Cook was more than the idea of sovereignty; it was freedom from the ‘muldarbi’ or demon spirit. I use muldarbi here to describe the coloniser, and all forms of exploitation and power that are dispossessing and destructive of indigenous peoples. Freedom is yet to be known by the muldarbi and its agents of power. The time before is what the muldarbi called ‘pre-history’, but it was our known black history. This is now sought again. So that we may become free to live without the fear of genocide. Nungas coexisted in the law; we were not waiting to be ‘discovered’ or waiting to be ‘granted the right to be’ self-determining, for we were already the truth of who we are as Nungas. We had ‘arrived’ our identity is set in law and land. The colonial state cannot ‘grant’ us who we are, for it was never theirs to give. Who we are emanates from law. We cannot seek back the ability to be from the one who has not yet become a (legitimate) being of the law. Yet we dialogue with the muldarbi in the language of self-determination, in the struggle to reclaim a territory, which is free of its genocide.

19. Nunga relationships to ruwi are more complex than owning and controlling a piece of property. State sovereignty is established through the power of force and the planting of a flag, wherefrom the land becomes enslaved and a consumable, which is traded or sold. We are the natural world; it is a mirror of our self, our Nunganess, so how can we sell our self? We nurture ruwi as we do our self, for we are one. The non-indigenous relationship to land is to take more than is needed, depleting ruwi and depleting self. A way with the land that is separate and alien, unable to understand how it is we communicate with the natural world. We are talking to relations and our family, for we are one. We seek permission from the spirit world for our actions; nothing is assumed. When food is taken from ruwi thanks are given, in hope that food will again be provided in the future. Our ways, considered backward and not a part of the steps of the ‘evolving spirit,’ are however ways which guarantee a sustainable model not only for Nungas but for all in the wake of their own embrace of Nunganess.

20. In imposing ‘sovereignty’ over indigenous laws, the state through military force rapes its way into existence. Creating a sovereignty of violence, and not of law. Law is creation. It is a song; it is a love of law, and its land and its peoples; it is all things and in all things. This muldarbi sovereign erases peoples, their memories and ideas of laws, in constituting state sovereignty.

Terra nullius then and now

21. Imperial Britain imposed terra nullius, of territory/land, law and people, and covered every part of my Nunga being with its myth of emptiness. This justified the lie that a space existed and still exists for their invasion and settlement of the ruwi of my ancestors as part of God’s good plan. Their claimed sovereignty denied ours and in planting the flag – supported by violence - an act of state, they violated the laws of the first peoples. Terra nullius and its violence made Nungas and our laws invisible, while our ruwi become (I use this tense because it is, as I know it, a continuum) enslaved, commodified and entrenched in their rules of property.

22. In 1975 the United Nations General Assembly brought the question of terra nullius and its application to the territory of the peoples of Western Sahara before the International Court of Justice (ICJ: 12). An opinion was sought as to whether the people of the Western Sahara were eligible for decolonisation following the withdrawal of Spain from the region. The court decided that territories inhabited by peoples living as ‘organised societies’ were not to be considered empty of peoples and open to state acquisition on the basis of occupation. The court also decided that the Western Sahara peoples were political entities vested with political sovereignty and able to enter into relations with other sovereign states.

23. Yet following this decision the Western Sahara peoples were again displaced by the invasion of these same territories by Morocco. Today they remain colonised in the same position as Nungas following the High Court decision in Mabo No 2. The ICJ decision made no impact in realising de-colonisation, and the people of this region remained voiceless and incarcerated. The only difference was the changed identity of the dominant occupying state.

24. Following the decision of the ICJ in Western Sahara terra nullius in theory became a discredited doctrine, and no longer a tool for the justification of colonialism. Terra nullius was seen as a racist doctrine, and relic of a colonial ‘past’. The rejection of terra nullius was followed by the Australian High Court, but like the people of Western Sahara, Nungas are subjugated to the colonising state, but one which unlike Western Sahara remained the same in its identity. The only change was its call for legitimacy – an act of state. (See Brennan in 66 ALJR: 408, 421-422) An act of state sovereignty held by the power of force. And while ‘justice’ is held by force, freedom never arrives. (See Derrida J, 1997: 91) It is only the continuance of exploitation and the filling of gaps with pragmatism, while all else continues as before. This is what washes the shores of where Cook walked before. (See Watson, 1998: 43)

25. In declaring the ‘death’ of terra nullius in relation to the property law of Australia, the High Court created an illusion of doing justice. (Mabo v Queensland (1992) 107 ALR 1:18, 28, per Brennan J, and at 82 per Deane and Gaudron JJ, and at 141, per Toohey J) But in reality, the injustice of terra nullius was replaced by a new form – the power of extinguishment. A colonising theory is not only renewed by the High Court, but also justified and purified; once more made good as an act of god - an act of state by which the Australian state constituted/s sovereignty. The creation of native title is the muldarbi’s attempt to further erode and subvert Nunga identities.

26. The Native Title Act 1993 created a native title claims process, based on the common law rules established in Mabo (No 2). If I am able to prove that I am sufficiently native, that is, still holding the same law that my grandmother held in 1788, and the ruwe of the law has not been extinguished by other property interests over the land, then I may hold a form of native title. A title that is determined by the Commonwealth Native Title Act 1993 and now State legislation following the Commonwealth Native Title Act 1998 amendments. In the world of native title many claims compete for the same ruwi. Conflict is highlighted. And the muldarbi appears good, humane as it works in annihilating our being in a way, which appears to be establishing ‘rights’.

27. Seeking a declaration from the coloniser and the granting of title to land has never been my ancestors’ journey or mine. We know the land is belonging to the ancestors and us in their place. We are both owners and carers during our short time on earth. It is the frog who is in need of legitimacy. Native title is a way of giving the frog what it does not have. We have never consented.

28. Native title will not give traditional owners the power needed. That is to say no. No to a nuclear waste dump or a space base, being developed on our countries. It will allow for the meagre bartering of the crumbs, which fall from the muldarbi’s table. Native title is the domain of space bases and nuclear waste dumps, wanting title over land named and determined for their short time and space on earth. As Nungas travel back to those places as carers for a troubled and sick landscape of the future dawning.

29. The decision in Mabo No 2 to remove ‘terra nullius’ from the language of Australian property law did little in returning Nunga rights to land. The power of the state to steal and remove us from ruwi continues today in modern forms as trans-national corporations in their merging to become an even bigger greedier frog, are empowered to steal and plunder the remaining internal organs of our ruwi-ancestors. (See Watson, 1997:391)

30. Mabo No 2 represents a further layering of the muldarbi; in its rule of extinguishment of native title, it works to achieve the oneness of the state, as it skilfully poses as a form of recognition of indigenous rights. A complete rejection of the doctrine of terra nullius would have involved the question, what constitutes the sovereignty of the Australian state? Instead the court decided the question was not justiciable. That is, that the question of sovereignty could not be heard before the Australian legal system. (See Mabo v Queensland (1992) 175 CLR, 1:31-35 and 78)

31. However in the struggle to survive inside the belly of the muldarbi Nungas are compelled to enter the states’ native title processes. Native title applicants are required to prove the extent to which their nativeness has survived genocide. If nativeness is not proven it is considered extinguished. If it is proven it is open to extinguishment. Native title is extinguishment. Extinguishment is a form of genocide. We have no real options. In relation to the native title ‘benefits’ described by native title advocates, it is true that there are a number of native title applicants who will be spared the nightmare of a nuclear waste dump or a space base imposed on their ruwi. While some native title applicants may find merit in the native title process and the possibility of protection of country against environmental destruction, there remains a wide discretion and power in the state to continue to do as it chooses in relation to the acquisition of our lands. The recognition of native title has provided the state with an administrative means for managing extinguishment and genocide, while looking benevolent in the process.

32. There are some indigenous peoples who will in the short term appear more fortunate than others, as they provide the state with its much needed positive image of native title. And the corporations play the game also by pumping up the image of a massive native title rights agenda, suggesting native title is an infringement on their right to development and exploitation.

33. There is a pattern in the history of dispossession of Nunga peoples. For it appears to be in the interest of the state to protect some ‘indigenous places’, for it is appealing to the tourist, the seeker of the naturale and the exotic, the beauty and wisdom of the Aborigine. While out of their sights the ugliness is glaring as the ruwi screams. Some indigenous peoples have fared better than others under colonialism. As today some groups will have the impact of extinguishment felt more fully than others. They are not able to protect their country from development and destruction by powerful corporations. Others for the moment may secure protection over their lands. However in the long term everyone’s fate is determined: ‘as they come for me in the morning, it is you they come for next’. Perhaps that is already appearing for the Ananungu peoples of South Australia in their battle to hold on to the minimal protection ‘granted’ to them under the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act.

34. In the genocide game we may perhaps have only the choice of how we take it. We may enter the native title process and become a consenting party to the genocide, where one is stamped native or extinguished, but whatever the stamp, once in the process you are open to a determination of extinguishment at a time determined by the state. Those in the process may be fed a small price until their ultimate extinguishment. Those remaining outside the process resisting absorption into native title rules, go untitled, non-consenting and perhaps it is only here that we have the possibility of freedom, and like the ancestors ‘myall blackfellers’ we live to die outside the boundaries of the muldarbi claimed sovereign territory. To be in a place we have always been, a creation of Nunga laws.

Illusion of recognition

35. The never-ending hopefulness that we will become recognised for who we are fades post-Mabo (No 2). When terra nullius was identified as the muldarbi, there was support for change and pulling Nungas from the belly of genocide. But we have been left with the illusion of change and those who hold this illusion true breathe out a false belief that a special Aboriginal advantage was created by native title at the expense of white advantage. Similar to the myth of terra nullius they have created a racist muldarbi fear and loathing of a native title right. The racism exceeds any advantage.

36. Our survival of genocide grows more complex, as we wade against the popular belief that we are healed and rescued by native title rights and reconciliation, ever hopeful of someone in the place of God saying sorry. And whether we want to be in it or not we are left with the burden of having to ‘please explain’. Or remain silent. Which itself is construed as a form of consent. So it is a damned place we reside. One of ever looming annihilation. Unless of course we become equal, the impossible dream, unless the number of dreamers drastically changes globally. So in the place of the impossible dream we reside where the muldarbi power reduces the dominant culture to its state of siege and a fear of a ‘thousands blacks’ out there, with a picture of us all carrying a ‘native title right’.

State power

37. What change did Mabo bring for Nungas? Very little, it opened a door that slammed shut in our face. The court failed to deliver a full rejection of terra nullius. A pragmatic decision that retained all things as they were before. Only the image of the state was revamped and made good again.

38. Mabo No 2 continues to legitimise a violent brutal landing. In a context of violence there is no possibility of dialogue on the conditions of their entry. Today there is continuing violence and there remains with it little possibility of dialogue, which is truthful and ‘real’, beyond the rhetoric and political propaganda of the state. There has never been a dialogue. There is an assumed constituted power over Nungas, but I never came into the muldarbi’s order. I was never invited nor ever consented. I am still living in the place of law, a ‘non-citizen’ , preferring the unsettled myall frontier: in respect of the place held by the ancestors. A place of my lawful being.

39. And we continue to ask the question of the Australian state, by what lawful process have you come into being? It is met with a silence of an unrecognised violence – a power of the state to annihilate all that is different. (See Watson, 1993: 5-8) Without answering the question the state offers, reconciliation and native title. While leaving intact the scars of annihilation as it continues to bore even deeper into the earth and the Nunga being.

40. The sovereignty of the state claims to overpower Aboriginal laws. But our laws go before and beyond a sovereignty, which is held by a physical force of arms. Aboriginal law is exterior to a claimed sovereignty of the muldarbi, an exteriority that renders their claimed sovereignty a breach and violation of our natural order as their rules and regulations maintain the unlawfulness of tyranny.

Universalising the colonised (dis)order

41. The UN’s justification for excluding indigenous peoples from the General Assembly is based on geographical barriers or the ‘blue water thesis’, that is where Indigenous peoples’ territories lie within the imposed boundaries of the colonial state. And are deemed beyond the possibilities of de-colonisation. This is a ruling, which makes a lie of the U.N’s claimed intention to end colonialism, in its General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of December 1960, in the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.

42. The Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples expresses both contradiction and conflict between peoples and states over who holds sovereignty. Paragraph 6 of the Declaration protects the ‘territorial integrity’ of nation states like Australia, the United States, Canada, and New Zealand. Their crimes are absolved and the struggle for freedom of colonised peoples is made illegitimate while the states go undeterred in their genocidal impact on indigenous peoples.

43. The decolonisation movement itself has had an impact on the meaning of self-determination and the contexts in which it was ‘allowed’ to take form. In the past 30 years it has been applied in a context of decolonising territories rather than peoples. Western Sahara is a good example. Indigenous peoples’ claim to self-determination is seen as a challenge to the ‘territorial integrity’ of existing states. States argue that these claims may result in a potential threat to world peace. This is as though peace was a known and lived reality that is not already in fragments. And as though it is even an agenda held by indigenous peoples. That is to heal like with like, as though violence is our way.

44. In offsetting any possibility of indigenous nations taking a firmer grip on global issues. The Chairperson of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Peoples (WGIP), Erica Daes, stated at the 1992 WGIP session that the right to self-determination of indigenous peoples ‘was used in its internal character, that is short of any implications which might encourage the formation of independent states’. (UN.doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/93.para80) Also Professor Rosalyn Higgins, a member of the International Court of Justice, expressed the view that state boundaries had to be maintained for reasons of world peace. (I was present at this meeting, and the comments were also cited in Sanders, D, 1993: 80, 81) Clearly the UN at this stage would support a limited right of self-determination for indigenous peoples. One exercised within the jurisdiction of the state and at the discretion of the state. This is a guarantee of the continuing colonial relationship between colonising states and indigenous peoples.

Sovereignty - first peoples law

45. The state has been influenced by centuries of domination and consumption of smaller groups to establish larger political identities. The larger group identity then subsumes all others, eating up all else to become one, big frog. The name ‘nation’ is attached to us by them in a confined colonising sense. Serving only as an indicator of our place as the first peoples. A place they perceive as having no international identity. We are known as first nations peoples, of the past, with no present and a future they are in the process of killing.

46. They apply the term nation to us in anthropological terms, which has no political, and international law meaning. However we have adopted the language and the word nation so as to communicate who we are, with dominant occupying states about our lawful place, ownership and custodianship of our territories. And not in a way, which is more of the same. That is: not so as to become a player in the same greedy game of dominance.

47. The concept of nation state and sovereignty from an indigenous perspective is different to the idea of a modern state, which is backed up by nuclear weapons and armies on stand-by. These ideas of state sovereign power are in contrast to the idea of the wholeness of a people coming from Kaldowinyeri - the dreaming – the creative processes which created the natural world and which seeks to continue the cycles of life.

48. From an indigenous perspective ‘nation’ carries its own meanings. The word ‘nation’ needs to be exploded and expanded to properly reflect and accommodate the philosophy of Nunga laws. Expanded to include the voices of the natural world, so that the ruwi of the first nations has a voice. We are not merely on and in the land, we are of it, we speak as one voice of the Creation, the voice or song law. Land and people are one voice one song.

Am I the enemy? And who are our obligations to anyway?

49. They considered my ancestors people who remained outside, the ‘sovereign’ frontiers, as their enemy. We were ‘sovereign’ peoples, and we practiced our sovereignty differently from European nation states. Our obligations were not to some hierarchical god, represented by a monarch. Our obligations were to law and we were responsible for the maintenance of country for the benefit of future carers of law and country.

50. Whereas the settlers feel that they must consume us. They feel that they have an historic right to us, and often that they are us. Yet in their play for the one nation state they annihilate all about us, which is different, revealing a deep psychosis of some form or other.

51. Sickness is what then emerges, an equally natural sickness, an evil naturally affecting nature. It is divided, separated from itself. When such an event occurs, one must speak of a pathology of the community. In question here is a clinic of the city. (Derrida, 1997: 92)

52. So in my speaking of laws of creation of Kaldowinyeri, I am shot down by the agents of the muldarbi for being a romantic. I describe a vision of the past that is present and is future, I speak of what they ‘know’ not ever to exist other than in my own primitive imaginings, or if found to have ever existed is extinguished by this modern world. We are led to only ever know that which is presented to us by them and the power of the muldarbi frog in all of its manifestations as the states and the trans-national corporations.

53. The picture conjured by the state and expressed by Derrida is one of sickness, ‘a clinic of the city’, where the healing, the hope and the law are vanquished by the sovereign state, but this is only within their own nightmare horizons, for the universal law and order of things outpaces and over powers all muldarbi things. It is how we out-think the muldarbi horizon to know the place of kaldowinyeri that begins to alter the pattern and despair for the sick city.

Dr. Irene Watson is an Indigenous woman of Tanganekald and Meintangk peoples, the traditional owners of the Coorong and lower southeast of SA, a lawyer and academic. She has published and lectured extensively on the construction of Aboriginal peoples' identities in both domestic and international law. Dr. Watson worked on the UN Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples until 1994, and was appointed in 1996 by the Chiefs of Ontario to sit as one of 7 Indigenous judges on the First Nations International Court of Justice. She was awarded the University of Adelaide Bonython Law School Prize in 2000 for the best law thesis, and recently self-published a short history volume Looking at You Looking at Me.

Author's note

A version of this essay has also been been published by Kluwer in their Journal, Law and Critique, "Buried Alive".


Dallmayr, Fred (1991) ‘ Re-thinking the Hegelian State’, in ed Cornell, Drucilla Rosenfeld, Michel and David Gray Carlson, Hegel and Legal Theory, Routledge New York.

I.C.J. (1975) Western Sahara Advisory Opinion.

Schulte-Tenckhoff, Isobelle (1998) ‘Re-assessing the Paradigm of Domestication: The Problematic of Indigenous Treaties’ 4 Review of Constitutional Studies, Alberta Law Review and Centre for Constitutional Studies Edmonton.

Soyinka, Wole (1999) The Burden of Memory, the Muse of Forgiveness, Oxford University Press, NY.

Watson, Irene (1997) ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Law-Ways: Survival Against the Colonial State’, Australian Feminist Law Journal, 8.

Watson, Irene (1998) ‘Power of the Muldarbi, the Road to Its Demise,’ Australian Feminist Law Journal. October.

The URL for this essay is:

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