The latest salvo in the
History Wars was fired by Henry Reynolds in Hobart last night, when he
issued a challenge to Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon to fund an
Aboriginal land rights case before the Supreme Court of Tasmania. On
election night on March 18, Lennon singled out Aboriginal
reconciliation as a top priority for his government and Reynolds said
funding a case would be an important way to honour this pledge.

Reynolds
has been the bullseye for a new group of historians, notably Keith
Windschuttle in The Fabrication of Aboriginal History and Michael
Connor in The Invention of Terra Nullius. He’s also been in the
sights of The Australian‘s editor David Mitchell and his
columnist Christopher Pearson, who have supported the opposing camp.
(Reynolds raised guffaws over a reference to Pearson becoming
over-excited, a sight which was “not a pleasant prospect.”)

About
100 people turned out on a cold night, forsaking TV coverage of both
the mine rescue and the Budget, to hear Reynolds “reporting from the
front line” at the University of Tasmania in the Riawunna Lecture
Series. Undoubtedly, there will be return fire.

Reynolds argues:
firstly, Tasmanian Aboriginal chief Manarlagenna’s direct descendants,
of which there are many, could take an action funded by the Lennon
Government to recover Crown land because they are known, their
genealogies are not questioned and their tribal land is pretty well
known. (Manarlagenna was a traditional owner of the territory of the
North East tribe).

Secondly, Manarlagenna negotiated with George
Augustus Robinson, a Government representative, about going to a
settlement on Flinders Island, which is recorded in Robinson’s diaries.
Effectively, it was a treaty under which there was no indication that
Manarlagenna wouldn’t return to his land or that it wouldn’t be
inherited by his descendants.

Thirdly, once a treaty always a
treaty, unless formally revoked. Add to this the precedent of North
American law, that agreements must be interpreted according to the
understanding of the indigenous people of the time. Then add the
established principle of the law of inheritance.

Fourthly, the
agreement wasn’t honoured by the Government on whose behalf it was
carried out by Robinson. Manarlagenna and many others died on Flinders
Island and their lands were seized. They were deliberately exiled to
Bass Strait, contrary to their agreement; it was not an act of
abandonment of traditional land. This was illegal. They were British
subjects and nothing in British law allowed people to be exiled who had
not been convicted of a crime.