Repossession of Australia

We’ve been waiting for over a decade, but ANU researchers Jon Altman and Francis Markham have finally put together a fabulous piece of work documenting the move from the dispossession to the repossession of Australia over the last generation – in 2013 Indigenous landholding is now at 31 per cent of Australia (if non-exclusive native title is included).

This is a major piece of work compiling Commonwealth, State and native title records which is dynamic and ongoing – last year alone there were 40 native title determinations (believe me I know, having tried to do this when working with the government!)

Altman and Markham map showing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land in 2013

The Altman and Markham maps are rich and they make some interesting observations: much of the land is not valued by ABARE and is listed as unallocated Crown land on existing maps. The land is generally intact, although where degraded through mines and loss of habitat there has been no compensation. And the communal land systems are perhaps poorly designed to participate in the modern economy.

So does this landholding have transformative power? Altman and Markham think a big part of the future might be in ecological services. Already, Indigenous Protected Areas form a large chunk of national conservation land, there is a strong overlap of threatened species refuges and Indigenous land, and belated recognition is coming from the Australian Government in the form of a $320m commitment for Working on Country programs over the next five years.

And now the Indigenous Carbon Farming Fund has rolled out its first round, focusing on savanna burning in the mostly Indigenous held north of Australia. Perhaps carbon farming can help Indigenous people take a bigger step into Altman’s hybrid economy – combining traditional with the market.

For more, check out Altman and Markham’s AIATSIS webcast, slides from the Native Title Conference, or Altman’s piece in Crikey.

Jeremy