The Guardian • Issue #2042

Talking About Land Rights

Invasion Day 2016, Perth. Photo: Gerry Georgatos

To sustain life people have to produce food, clothing, shelter and other necessities.

The process of production takes place within the interaction between human society and nature and involves three elements – human labour; the tools human beings create in order to produce; and the land and other natural resources that people use to meet their needs.

Land is the main means of production, the main source of life. For capitalists, it is the primary source of profits.

Land is a major source of wealth – its use for sheep, cattle and farming; the natural resources in and on it (gold, oil, bauxite, copper, diamonds, timber and so on); as real estate and for tourism.

All this and more makes land one of the country’s most valuable assets.


For Aborigines land means something different. It provides sustenance and it is also mother, hearth, home, the source of identity, the basis of culture and spirituality.

Aboriginal land ownership is inalienable: It cannot be bought or sold for, it is not a possession but an enduring source of life as well as a responsibility for a particular community.

Aboriginal land is owned communally, by a whole community.

Private ownership for private profit is not the only way things can be done – there is an alternative of collective ownership for the benefit not of an individual but of a group.


The first big land grab took place at the time of white settlement in 1788, when the continent was seized without recognition from the original owners — the Aboriginal people.

Since then, capitalist governments and corporations have continuously conspired, manoeuvred and propagandised to ensure that land is not returned.

However, since 1788, Aboriginal people have defended their lands and waters and asserted their rights to their homelands. These are some examples of their resistance.

Pemulwuy, a Bidjigal man, led the fight against British settlement from 1788 to 1802.

The “Black War” in Tasmania continued for over a decade. The “Fighting Gunditjmara” in south-west Victoria were resisting takeover of their land in the 1800s.

The Kalkadoon warriors of north-central Queensland and the Bunuba people, led by Jandamarra’s warriors, in the Kimberley region continued fighting to protect their land in the 1890s.

In 1946 Aboriginal communities left the stations where they were working in the Pilbara region, and went on to wage the longest strike action in Australia’s history.

In 1963 the Yolgnu people from north-east Arnhem Land presented the Australian Parliament with a bark petition. In 1966 over 200 Gurindji men, women and children walked off the Vestey-owned cattle station and occupied their traditional land at Daguragu.

In 1968 the people of Yirrkala lodged the first legal claim for recognition of Aboriginal land title.

The Aboriginal Tent Embassy was set up on the front lawns of Old Parliament House on 26th January 1972.


For the owners of capital, land rights are both an immediate threat to their economic interests and also a dagger aimed at the very heart of capitalism.

For Aboriginal communities to own even part of the land sets a dangerous precedent to monopoly corporations who are intent on owning or leasing all the resources of this country in order to make the most profit possible.

Aboriginal control of their land makes it harder for corporations to rip out Australia’s wealth for private profit. Aboriginal land rights can help reduce foreign ownership of Australia’s natural wealth.

Because Aboriginal land is communally owned, it presents the alternative of collective ownership for the benefit of all community members and suggests that private ownership for private profit is not the only way things have to be done.

It can even suggest the revolutionary idea that all the valuable assets in Australia could become the collective property of all the people and be used not for private profit but to meet the needs of the people.

The CPA has pointed out: “The land rights campaign is a significant element in the struggle for socialism and these Aboriginal demands lay the basis for the transition to social ownership by all the people, black and white, of land and other resources in a socialist Australia.”


The CPA fights for communal, inalienable land rights for Aborigines based upon traditional ownership, religious association, long occupancy and/or need. These are rights which must be returned; they are not gifts to be bestowed by the dominant society.

Aboriginal land title must include full rights to minerals and other natural resources as well as to all sacred sites, heritage areas and areas of traditional significance.

Another essential feature is the establishment of autonomous areas for communities on the basis of their communally owned land where they can develop their own economic, social and cultural life.

Autonomous areas would be comparable to the States and have an equivalent representation in the Australian Federal Parliament.

The Aboriginal Provisional Government (APG) says: “the areas would be scattered far and wide around Australia and would be the land needed by local Aboriginal communities.

“While some have scoffed at the peculiar boundaries such a division of land would create, it is not unusual in international circles. For example, the United States is a nation yet is separated completely from its territory in Alaska. Its territory in Hawaii is halfway around the other side of the world. This has not been seen as a reason to laugh at the jurisdiction of the United State.”


The CPA works for unity in action to be built between black and white Australians, stressing that:

“The working-class movement must realise that part of their movement is made up of Aboriginal and Islander workers and that the national liberation and working-class movements are allied. The revolutionary and anti-monopoly content of the land rights campaign is as important for the white workers as it is for the Aborigines and Islanders.”

The working people of Australia suffer at the hands of the same rapacious transnationals and monopolies, the same political forces which have inflicted so much injustice on the Aboriginal and Islander people. We have a common struggle.

Aborigines battling for land and mineral rights, white workers fighting to save their jobs – two sides of the one coin, two groups fighting the same battle against the same enemy. It’s not a question of “helping” or “supporting” Aborigines. It’s a matter of solidarity in the common struggle.

As Karl Marx wrote: “Labour in the white skin can never be free while labour in the black skin is in chains.”

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