UNSW Law Book Forum review by Lucinda Stewart

On Wednesday 4 May at 4 pm in the staff common room of the UNSW Law School, a crowded room of people—including staff, students, academics and people interested in working in the area of land law or specifically native title—assembled for a UNSW Law Book Forum event to discuss the book Beyond Communal and Individual Ownership: Indigenous Land Reform in Australia, written by the Indigenous Law Centre’s Research Director Dr Leon Terrill.

Over the last decade, Australian governments have introduced a series of land reforms in communities on Indigenous land. Dr Terrill’s book is the first in-depth study of these significant and far-reaching reforms. It details how the reforms came about, how they operate and their consequences for Indigenous landowners and community residents. It also revisits the rationale for their introduction and discusses the significant gap between public debate about the reforms and their actual impact.

The forum began with chair Associate Professor Sean Brennan opening the night with an acknowledgement of country before introducing the author, Dr Terrill. During his talk, Dr Terrill provided an overview of the book and also thanked those who had contributed to this field of work, along with his supervisor and colleagues who reviewed his work and his mother and sister for making the effort to support him on the night bt attending the forum.

Dr Terrill addressing the forum

Then we heard from Associate Professor Tess Lea (University of Sydney), Professor Lee Gooden (University of Melbourne), and Nicole Watson (University of Technology, Sydney), who sat on the panel as readers who reviewed the book.

Professor Lee Gooden

Professor Lee Gooden was the first on the panel to review the book. Professor Gooden comes from a background of research in environmental resources law, natural resources law, water law and Indigenous people’s land and resources rights. Her review focused particularly on the content of the book that relates to her areas of expertise.

Professor Tess Lea was the second panellist to speak and she spoke from an ethnography standpoint. In her review, Professor Lea deconstructed the legal framework of land law in Australia, to talk about her fundamental interest in issues of dysfunction, specifically looking at houses and infrastructure (plumbing) in Aboriginal communities.

Professor Tess Lea

The final panellist was Nicole Watson, who provided an Indigenous point of view. Nicole focused on policies and law reforms that are considered to be Aboriginal historical events. She gave examples of cases and activism milestones that changed land rights in Australia, while contrasting these with the policies and law reform that made it harder for Indigenous people to make claims to land or for justice.

Nicole Watson and Dr Leon Terrill

I enjoyed the different perspectives of the panellists, in particular Nicole Watson’s response to the book. As an Indigenous woman, I was able to relate to what she was saying and I especially appreciated the way she included a discussion of the historical context of the land rights reforms and how they have affected Indigenous people over time.

In concluding the event, Dr Terrill spoke again addressing some of the questions or statements from the readers’ reviews, before opening up to the floor for questions.

It was the first time that I had gone along to a UNSW Law Book Forum, and I highly recommend the series to other law students and members of the public alike. I thought the night was a great success and I look forward to reading the book. 

Written by Lucinda Stewart, ILB Student Editor and UNSW Law student

Professor Lee Gooden, Professor Tess Lea, Dr Leon Terrill, Associate Professor Sean Brennan and Nicole Watson

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