Mabo’s Cultural Legacy

Mabo’s Cultural Legacy

History, Literature, Film and Cultural Practice in Contemporary Australia

Edited by Geoff Rodoreda & Eva Bischoff

Anthem Studies in Australian Literature and Culture

This book examines the broader impacts on Australian culture and cultural practice of the Australian High Court’s landmark Mabo decision of 1992. It considers how history, linguistics and anthropology as well as film, fiction, poetry and memoir writing have been challenged or transformed by Mabo.

Hardback, 210 Pages


June 2021

£80.00, $125.00

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About This Book

In June 1992 the High Court of Australia ruled in favour of a claim by a group of Indigenous Australians, led by Eddie Koiki Mabo, to customary, “native title” to land. In recognising prior Indigenous occupation of the continent, the Mabo decision shook the foundations of white Australia’s belief in the legitimate settlement of the continent by the British. Indeed, more than any other event in Australia’s legal, political and cultural history, the Mabo decision challenged previous ways of thinking about land, identity, belonging, the nation and history. Now, more than a quarter of a century after Mabo, this book examines the broader impacts of this ground-breaking legal decision on Australian culture and select forms of cultural practice. If Mabo represents a “psychological” turning point (Behrendt), a “paradigm shift” (Collins and Davis) in Australian historical consciousness, if we are meant to be living in “the age of Mabo” (Attwood) or in a “post-Mabo imaginary” (Gelder and Jacobs), how is this shift or this contemporary imaginary being reflected, refracted and articulated in Australian film, fiction, poetry, biography and other forms of cultural expression? To what extent has the discussion and the practice of history, linguistics, anthropology and other branches of the humanities been challenged or transformed by Mabo? While a number of individual studies have focussed on Mabo’s impact on law, politics, film or literature, no single book provides an overview of the diverse impact and discursive influence of Mabo on various fields of artistic endeavour and cultural practice in Australia today. This book fills that gap in literary and cultural enquiry.

In considering the cultural legacies of the High Court’s landmark decision this book also engages in a critical dialogue with Mabo and post-Mabo discourse. While a number of Indigenous Australians have benefited, legally and politically from the Mabo decision, the majority of Indigenous peoples have gained nothing, materially, from subsequent native title rulings. In honouring Eddie Mabo’s achievement, then, the contributors also recognise that Indigenous sovereignty over the continent was denied by the High Court in Mabo, and that the struggle for the recognition of better and wider land rights recognition – indeed, of First Nations sovereignty, via a treaty, treaties or similar agreements – continues ‘beyond’ Mabo. 

Keeping such an acknowledgement of Indigenous sovereignty in mind, this interdisciplinary book offers a transnational perspective of Mabo’s cultural legacy by presenting the work of scholars based in Australia, continental Europe and the UK.


“This book makes a major contribution to indigenous studies in Australia. It continues and extends the valuable work of Rodoreda in assessing the impact of the Mabo decision in Australian culture. The strengths of the book lie in the range of its analysis, facilitated by the range of subject areas and the number of contributors. The essays are scholarly and extend the work on Australian (both indigenous and non-indigenous) cultural developments after the Mabo decision in ways that provide a comprehensive context for considerations of the progress of Indigenous justice in Australia.” —Bill Ashcroft, Emeritus Professor, The University of New South Wales

“The Mabo decision of the Australian High Court in 1992 transformed both law and history. It attracted a large scholarly literature in the ensuing 30 years with focus on jurisprudence and politics. Far less has been written on the significant influence on the wider cultural landscape. This book admirably and comprehensively surveys the impact of Mabo on history, literature and the visual arts. It is clearly essential reading for anyone interested in Australian history and culture in the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first centuries.” —Henry Reynolds, Honorary Research Professor, Aboriginal Studies Global Cultures & Languages, University of Tasmania

Author Information

Geoff Rodoreda is a lecturer in the Department of English Literature at the University of Stuttgart, Germany. 

Eva Bischoff is an assistant professor in the Department of International History at Trier University, Germany.


Anthem Studies in Australian Literature and Culture

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements; Introduction, Geoff Rodoreda and Eva Bischoff; PART I. MAKING HISTORY; Chapter 1. Activism before Mabo: A View from the Southeast, Lynette Russell and Rachel Standfield; Chapter 2. Remembering Koiki and Bonita Mabo, Pioneers of Indigenous Education, Paul Turnbull; PART II. MABO IN POLITICS AND PRACTICE; Chapter 3. Responsibility = Ownership? An Ethnographic Moment in Native Title, Carsten Wergin; Chapter 4. The Contributions of Linguistics to Native Title Claims, Christina Ringel; PART III. MABO AND FILM; Chapter 5. Australian Indigenous Filmmaking Beyond Mabo: The Emergence of Indigenous Australian Visual Sovereignty, Romaine Moreton and Therese Davis; Chapter 6. Filmic Representations of Eddie Mabo in a Changing Cultural Imaginary, Renate Brosch; Chapter 7. Torres Strait Screen Media ‘Post- Mabo’: Between Representation and Institution, Peter Kilroy; PART IV. FICTION AND POETRY; Chapter 8. Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby: The FemaleBody as the Locus of Knowing and Tradition, Philip Morrissey; Chapter 9. Writing the Land, Writing Relations: Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance, Dorothee Klein; Chapter 10. Aboriginal Jurisprudence in Philip McLaren’s Lightning Mine, Katrin Althans; Chapter 11. Rewriting History, Rewriting Identity: Terra Nullius in Australian Poetry after Mabo, Lioba Schreyer; PART V. MABO AND MEMOIR; Chapter 12. Are We Better Than This?: Stan Grant and the Post-Mabo Blues, Lars Jensen; Chapter 13. Beyond Native Title: Literary Justice in the Post-Mabo Memoir, Kieran Dolin; List of Contributors; Index.


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