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Monday, 31 March 2008

The Anti-slavery movement and indigenous land rights

Celebration of the achievements of the anti-slavery movement in 2007 almost universally overlooked the fact that the movement's representatives in the highest circles of British government went on to engage in a struggle through the 1830's and 1840's that assumed the reality of native title in Australia.

While they were not successful they did have a signficant impact on the eventual recognition of native title in the Mabo case in 1992.

Henry Reynolds laid the historical foundation that enabled the High Court to overthrow the assumption of terra nullius. In doing so he drew attention to the long neglected role of the anti-slavery movement in attempting to shape policy in the colonies by their concerns for justice and their assumptions of the common humanity of the indigenous inhabitants.

Reynolds documents very clearly in The Law of the the Land, (now in its third edition) that the Evangelical politicians and movement leaders were unequivocal that their struggle against slavery and their struggle for justice for the indigenous occupants of the colonies were rooted in the same heological convictions.

Christians, particularly evangelicals who wish to claim the inheritance of the social concerns of Wilberforce and his allies should realise that they have also inherited a tradition that provided the basis for the Mabo and Wik cases.

Reading the meticulously documented historical account of their struggles by Reynolds has recast my understanding of Australian history and of the relevance and long term and unexpected consequences of faith based struggles for justice.

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