Deakin University

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Duplicity of meaning: wildness, indigeneity and recognition in the wild rivers act debate

journal contribution
posted on 2011-01-01, 00:00 authored by Timothy NealeTimothy Neale
This article considers the 'duplicitous' functions of the word ‘wild‘ in the arguments over the Queensland’s Wild Rivers Act 2005. Certain traditional owners, environmentalist and state groups have deployed the term pragmatically, simultaneously endorsing its usage (through repetition) and disavowing its colonial associations (through explanation) against protestations by Indigenous and non-Indigenous stakeholders. In a sense, this ambivalent ‘duplicity’ is entirely consistent with relations between the settler-colonial nation state and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander polities – relations aptly characterised by Povinelli as shaped by ‘the cunning of recognition’ – which stratify relations between groups through the endorsing of ‘tradition’. Thus ‘the Indigenous’ can be posited both as one political minority amidst a multicultural polity and as a pre-modern and endemic precursor of the settler-colonial nation, constitutively conservationist ‘first Australians’. Arguably, in the legislation's ‘recognition’ of the ‘wild’ past, Indigenous peoples – who were known in nineteenth century Queensland as ‘wild blacks’ or ‘myalls’ (meaning those who resisted leaving their lands – and ‘could be shot with impunity’)1 are recouped as the nation’s first caretakers of ‘pristine’ waterways. However, this article regards the current use of this ambivalent word as also potentially authorising those recognised through this mythic form, providing a limited and uncertain opportunity for traditional owners to ground a form of sovereign right in lands and waterways. Against totalising settler-colonial critiques of hegemony, this article argues that the Wild Rivers legislation does not forget indigeneity, but rather relies on indigeneity. While much research concerning ‘natural’ ideologies such as ‘the noble savage’ has worked to show that faith in a belated era of historical fullness or presence can serve to evacuate the present of material details, it may also be that the ‘wild’ can also offer Indigenous peoples a valuable political authority to, in the words of Courtney Jung, ‘contest the exclusions through which it has been constituted’.



Griffith law review






Abingdon, Eng.







Publication classification

X Not reportable, C1.1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2011, Taylor & Francis




Taylor & Francis