The Indigenous estate, the assemblage of Indigenous lands held under a diversity of land rights and native title regimes now covers an estimated 1.7 million sq kms or 22 per cent of continental Australia. For a variety of reasons, including a restricted common property regime that is the dominant form of land tenure and remoteness and the nature of Australia’s settler colonisation, much of the Indigenous estate is environmentally intact. Indigenous people, living on the lands that they now own, are well positioned to make valuable environmental contributions to critical national efforts in three areas: the conservation of biodiversity during a period of inevitable climate change and associated species loss; carbon abatement and sequestration to offset national greenhouse gas emissions; and management of fresh water quality and environmental flows.
In this article, Altman argues that the Indigenous lands can be conceptualised as ‘territories of difference’, a term he borrows from political ecologist Arturo Escobar (2008), where different ways of thinking about land and resources might become increasingly dominant as an alternate form of development. Escobar entreats us to break the hegemony of seeing Aboriginal territory, in his case in Pacific Columbia, as part of the conventional development model and to find political space within the hegemonic state to allow for the underwriting of a different form of development based on conservation.
A version of this Topical Issue appeared in Australian Options Quarterly No. 63 (Summer 2010/11).