(Re)mapping Terra Nullius: Hindmarsh, Wik and Native Title Legislation in Australia

Jillian Kramer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


In this paper, I argue that the Hindmarsh and Wik cases stand as crucial case studies that evidence the ongoing (re)production of terra nullius within contemporary Australian contexts. They bring into focus the critical importance the signifiers of property, capitalist ‘productivity’ and legality within the settler-colonial state. Alongside notions of ‘civility,’ discourses surrounding ‘economic productivity’ and ‘equality before the law’ are consistently mobilised in these cases to (re)assert white sovereignty. In contradistinction to the discourses that construct Indigenous people’s relation to land as a singular and affective ‘affinity,’ media, political and legal texts script white Australian land uses such as farming and mining as ‘productive’ and necessary for economic prosperity. They are posited with ‘monetary’ output and juridical standing in order to (re)produce the narrative that the continent was lawfully ‘settled’ by ‘illustrious’ white Australians. Moreover, these signifiers ramify within colonial law. Following these cases, the state amended the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 and the Native Title Act 1993 respectively. They ensured the material construction of the Hindmarsh Island Bridge and the revocation of specific Indigenous land rights in order to sustain the settler-colonial state’s claims to sovereignty.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-212
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Journal for the Semiotics of Law
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016


  • Australia
  • Colonialism
  • Critical discourse analysis
  • Native title
  • Sovereignty


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