What if conflict and opposition were integral and conventional by Sarahsinthekinchin


									                                    AIATSIS Seminar Series 2005
                                   James Weiner and John Burton
      Contemporary Socio-political Fragmentation in Native Title Claim Groups in Queensland
                                           22 March 2005

What if conflict and opposition were integral and conventional forms of “classical” Aboriginal
social articulation, both within and between recognizable social groups? The language of both the
Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976 (NT) and the Native Title Act 1993 on the other hand, assumes
that Aboriginal land holding groups were not only internally solitary but had and continue to have
conventional relations of stability with other like-ordered groups. In this paper I examine two cases
of contemporary fragmentation of native title claimant groups and suggest that strategies of
opposition and withdrawal are most likely related to pre-colonial practices of social and territorial
differentiation. The Native Title Act 1993 eclipses fully half of what conventional Aboriginal social
formations were about in the classical period.

James Weiner has conducted research among the Foi of Papua New Guinea and has worked as a
consultant in the field of analysis of land-owner social and territorial organization in Papua New
Guinea and Queensland. He is the co-editor, with Alan Rumsey, of Emplaced Myth: Space,
Narrative, and Knowledge in Aboriginal Australia and Papua New Guinea (2001), and Mining and
Indigenous Lifeworlds in Papua New Guinea and Australia (2004).

                        The People Remember and the Government Forgets:
                       the last 100 years of land disputes at Mer, Torres Strait

Soon after moving to Torres Strait, I became aware that the rest of Australia celebrates 1992 Mabo
case as a great victory for the Murray Islanders, but the situation is very different at Mer. The
Meriam remain trapped in a web of at least 50 extremely heated land disputes, with no obvious
resolution in sight. In 2004, in conjunction with a mediation exercise held jointly by the TSRA and
National Native Title Tribunal, I did an investigation of land disputes in a small section of the
village area, aided by the recent re-discovery of an 1893 map of householdings at 'Meer' in the
Queensland State Archives, and a detailed analysis of the 80 years of records of the Murray Island
Court. I conclude that the interaction of Meriam with the various forms of Queensland Government
administration that have existed since 1879 is not really a question of 'two cultures'. On the
contrary, in each generation various institutions of government find solutions and work with
Meriam to negotiate agreements, only to forget within a short time that they have done so. The
Meriam, for their part, are left remembering the disputes and are unsuccessful in holding the
attention of any sections of government long enough for the remedies to hold.
After doctoral research in the PNG highlands in 1980-81, John Burton held the position of Lecturer
in Anthropology and Sociology for 6 years at the University of Papua New Guinea. In 1987 he
began an 18 year interest with social mapping and land ownership in Melanesia, going on to work
on the social organisation of land tenure in six widely separated provinces of PNG during the
1990s. In 2001 John took up the position of Senior Anthropologist with the Torres Strait Regional
Authority, at Thursday Island. He currently works as a Research Fellow, Resource Management in
Asia-Pacific Program in the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, the Australian National

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