Book - No Ordinary Judgement

Book - No Ordinary Judgement

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No Ordinary Judgement

- Nonie Shart

Published 1996

No Ordinary Judgement tells the inside story of the Mabo case, a unique court drama where rights and interests previously unknown to Anglo-Australian law came to be recognised by the High Court of Australia. In far north-east Australia lie the homelands of the Meriam, a dynamic seafaring, fishing and gardening people. They explained in court, often eloquently, how their 'cultural way' retains a fidelity to distinctive principles while also accommodating new ideas and techniques. In the name of the Meriam law they also defended their right to land passed between generations by the spoken word. Their right to land carries with it a moral and practical responsibility to other Meriam and to the land itself. Meriam culture, often diminished in the hearing of evidence, has an original contribution to make to future Meriam, to the rest of Australia and to the world. In exploring the role of native title in reshaping Australian identity, some of the deeper questions of cultural diversity and self-determination are identified. 

As an Australian Research Fellow at La Trobe University, Nonie Sharp has undertaken a five-year project on cross-cultural conceptions of sea space with special reference to marine rights and activities in northern Australian coastal waters. Her Footprints along the Cape York Sandbeaches (1992) and Stars of Tagai: The Torres Strait Islanders (1993). Aboriginal Studies Press, are based on her work since 1978.

Nonie Sharp was there from the very beginning, when Murray Islanders discussed the possibility of a land rights case in 1981. As an anthropologist, she is faithful to the people whose culture and religion she respects. As an advocate for justice, she writes compellingly about Aboriginal rights to land and self-determination. No Ordinary Judgement is a major contribution to public understanding of the Mabo judgement and to ongoing public debate about cross-cultural relations - the way that we Australians are to commit ourselves to economic and social development while being true to the cultural identity of all. Sharp gives new insights into Torres Strait Islanders life and culture and an understanding of strengths, visions and difficulties of all those who brought the case to court, argued it and decided it.

Through the court drama of the Mabo case as it went backwards and forwards for ten years from the Murray Islands, to Brisbane, Canberra and back again, Sharp portrays complex and strong people like Eddie Mabo who was a well-educate, well-read, politically active Islander with a strong sense of traditional ways, and David Passi, the Anglican priest and successful plaintiff, who loves the traditional law of Malo and finds no inconsistency between his traditional law and his Christian religion. They, like the judges, are shown wrestling with the differences in cross-cultural meaning systems with intelligence and commitment. Like the Mabo judgement, this book offers hope 'to those who seek to marry the best principles of their inherited culture with those of European-Australian culture' and guidance to the rest of us.

Frank Brennan SJ AO