Document Type

Journal Article


Since first contact and invasion, Europeans have imagined Australia in two related ways: as terra nullius, and as terra incognita. While Indigenous Australians have always known the fictiveness of these two modes of imagining this country, it took until the 1992 Mabo decision and legislation in 1993 for there to be legal recognition that Australia was not terra nullius; arguably, the allure of Australia as a mystery, as an unknown, still has a place in the white imagination. Foucault's analysis of the power/knowledge nexus makes explicit the connections between these two conceptions of Australia, and their role in justifying what could be done to Indigenous peoples. The land's supposed emptiness signals its mystery, which in turn allows free rei(g)n in the ways in which it may be known, and in the types of knowledges that can become authoritative. Thus the way in which 'Australia' was known by the colonisers, and the ways in which this set of knowledges became dominant, have been crucial in securing control of the land and its people.