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The Reveal of The Hypocrisy of The Mabo Decision Within Political Cartoon

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On the 3rd of June 1992, the High Court of Australia decided that terra-nullius should not have been applied to Australia as the land was in fact occupied by the Aboriginal Peoples. The Mabo Decision acknowledged and declared native land rights to Indigenous Australians which were originally dispossessed. This dispossession put many Indigenous lives at risk. Despite its acknowledgement, the Mabo decision was not successful in making any immediate changes for Indigenous Australians because it also declared that pastoralists were allowed to use the land’s resources for their personal gain, regardless of ATSI ownership.

One of the political cartoons I’ve chosen to describe illustrates this failure clearly, as it depicts two Aboriginal elders confronting a Judge about their stolen land. The Judge’s response is to make a ‘compromise’ which in no way benefits natives and still allows whites to have full control over the lands’ resources. This is essentially what the decision did, it allowed the High Court Judges to overcome the ‘white guilt’ they so correctly felt for the dispossession of Indigenous land while only making a meagre attempt to fix the issue. The Judge appears to be in a comfortable position, sitting down at a desk with quills by his side, while elders are forced to stand. This signifies the powerless position the elders are in compared to the Judge who does not truly know what ATSI people have suffered through.

The dispossession of Indigenous land was not only a cause of hardship for many ASTI people, it was also extremely hypocritical of the Australian Government; this is expressed well in the second cartoon. The political cartoon depicts a silhouette of three Indigenous Australians standing on a coast of Australia, holding spears. A cartoon caricature of then Prime Minister John Howard and his crew, are on a boat. One of the Indigenous Australians, an elder, gestures a stopping motion at John Howard, saying “We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come…” John Howard responds stating that such a decision is ‘inhumane’. It illustrates the hypocrisy in the actions of the British using the word ‘inhumane’ which is underlined to emphasise it. The cartoon is clearly showcasing the immigration and refugee issue that was prominent during Howard’s term as Prime Minister. However, the presence of Aboriginal Australians in the cartoon allow the audience to see how hypocritical the Government has been especially in terms of the result of the Mabo Decision and the allocation of land rights.

The possession of native land has brought a lot of harm to Indigenous Australians, a lot of which are listed in the last one political cartoon. Where an older Indigenous man expresses his anger towards the British, referred to as ‘boat people’ to a young boy. In the background, a large ship is visible in the sea in with flags on it, with a smaller boat ahead of it, although the cartoon is in black and white, the union jack is visible which suggests that they are British ships. The Indigenous man lists different ways the British have been disrespectful to Indigenous culture, one of which being, “They [the boat people]…take our land.” This is referring to the dispossession of native land rights and the harm it has brought to ATSI people.

In conclusion, the political cartoons, entitled named in selected cartoons showcase the hypocrisy of the Mabo decision, by comparing the dispossession to refugee rights. This comparison is only possible because the judgement did not give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people full land rights to their own land and only acknowledged traditional ‘ownership’.   

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The Reveal of the Hypocrisy of the Mabo Decision Within Political Cartoon. (2022, August 30). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from
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