Savagery and civilisation: From terra nullius to the 'tide of History"
This article argues that the colonization of Australia was justified by denying that Indigenous peoples possessed recognizable societies, law, property rights or sovereignty. This denial, in turn, rests upon the supposition that Indigenous Australians were living in a 'savage', pre-civilized state: the state of nature of liberal theory. Such concepts, deeply embedded in western political thought, informed the view that Australia was a terra nullius or unowned land. Consequently, the contrast between 'savagery' and its counterpart, 'civilization' formed a critical element of colonial arguments that Australia could be colonized without either a war of 'conquest', or making a treaty. We argue here that more than 14 years after the rejection of terra nullius in Australian law, its legacy and the assumptions that underpinned it persist in the concepts more recent debates deploy as well as in the concept of terra nullius that some of these debates rehabilitate.