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Terra Nullius: A Journey Through No One's Land [Paperback]

Sven Lindqvist
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

7 April 2008
This book contains a beautifully described journey across Australia's desert, and into its shocking past. In critically acclaimed "Desert Divers and Exterminate all the Brutes", Sven Lindqvist travelled through Africa's deserts, and unearthed the cruelty of colonialism. Now he has done the same for Australia. Lindqvist travels through the south of the country, lyrically describing its landscape, flora and fauna and geology, while also telling the history of the country, and revealing the shocking treatment of its Aboriginal peoples.He catalogues some truly shocking abuses, such as the rounding up of Aborigine women for transportation to the chillingly named "Isle of the Dead" for inappropriate and often fatal syphilis treatment; and the extensive forced separation of 'halfblood' children from their families to squalid, prison-like camps. Stretching from the formation of the Australian continent 600 million years ago to the 2002 hunger strikes in the Woomera detention camp, "Terra Nullius" leaves us with a strong sense of Australia as a piece of earth, steeped in geological and tragic human history.

Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books (7 April 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847080057
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847080059
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 843,169 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


* 'Terra Nullius is the latest installment in Sven Lindqvist's confrontation with the genocidal consequences of Western advancement... Lindqvist's strength is the sheer heat of his passions and the boldness with which he attacks complacency... The landscape, and his journeying, are brilliantly rendered by a master of worldly insight and stylistic precision... a work of urgent necessity and a heart-warming marvel' Independent * 'A polemical adventure in travel, criticism and autobiography, Desert Divers opens up a vast, discursive territory. It is gripping from start to finish' Geoff Dyer

About the Author

Sven Lindqvist was born in 1932 in Stockholm, where he still lives. He has traveled extensively through Asia, Africa and Latin America, and is the author of over thirty books, including Exterminate all the Brutes, Desert Divers, and A History of Bombing.

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye Opener 2 July 2009
By Steven R. McEvoy TOP 1000 REVIEWER
In the last few years Sven Lindqvist has become one of my favorite nonfiction authors. He probes some of the worst situations in human history, yet always ends up with giving us some hope for our future. In earlier books, such as Exterminate All The Brutes he chronicles the history of European genocides in Africa, and in The Skull Measurers Mistake he chronicles a history of men and women who spoke out against racism. In this volume, Terra Nullius: A Journey Through No One's Land, he chronicles the history of racism and systematic abuse against the Aboriginals from Australia, from the arrival of James Cook in 1770 to 1992 when the Mabo Decision in the Australian Supreme Court outlaws the concept of 'terra nullius'.

Like many of his earlier books it is written as part history and part journal. He chronicles events from the past, key places in this history story, and side by side with that is his journey to and fro across the Australian countryside to personally experience the places discussed in the history. He writes in a very fluid, lucid style. At times it appears to be stream of conscious writing, yet as the reader goes further and further into the book, you realize that it was nothing so random. Every history event portrayed has a specific purpose; each personal recollection brings to light either the preceding or following events; each portrait of either a victim or someone who attempted to help the victims has specific meaning and purpose to the whole.

What amazed me most about this book was that it was a story with which I was completely unfamiliar. I remember in school in the late 70's and early 80's that we often had lessons on apartheid and the situation in South Africa, and even Africa as a whole.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another great book from Lindqvist. 12 Oct 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Another great book from Sven Lindqvist. This is a unique blend of informed travelogue with historical analysis, social anthropolgy, and the origins of modern Australian art & literature.

Lindqvist accounts for how the white European settlement of Australia in turn resulted in the wholesale systematic dispossession of the indigenous aboriginal peoples. Of course it doesn't end there - not only were their lands and waters stolen but there was a conscious attempt to actually exterminate them altogether. Citing countless and varied sources he demonstrates how this peaked in the 1930s - one exponent even calls it 'the final solution' - and would even continue in many aspects well into the post-WW2 era.

Families are seperated, children interned in labour camps, boys made to pearl-dive, girls sent away as maids (often to repeated sexual & physical abuse), mothers would have their babies taken away, and the men would be utterly disenfranchised and often arrested, rounded-up, beaten, disappeared, and even shot. Time after time the authorities would turn a blind eye or even encourage these acts. The prison islands for supposed carriers of STDs were little more than concentration camps for the thousands...

Towards its end, Lindkvist's book explores how through art the persecuted peoples have made a sort of breakthrough into modern Australian identity and consciousness. The subject of restitution is an ongoing one and has clearly become a hot political issue in 21st century Australia.

As others will doubtless echo - all Australians should read this book, but it isn't a story unique to that country alone. We should all look at our own countries and ask ourselves did this happen here? Did we do it over there? Are we still responsible for it happening?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I had a general interest in the concept of 'terra nullius' before reading this book, but I had very little knowledge of Australia and still less of its colonisation by Britain.

In the form of a travelogue, this book provides a widely sweeping yet detailed account of the appropriation of Australia and the disregard and contempt of the invaders for the indigenous population, their customs, or their right to life. In graphic detail it recounts how the last of the surviving Tasmanians were rounded up and herded together before being mass slaughtered, thus effecting their total extermination by their civilised, Christian European invaders who wanted their lands.

As well as this detailed history of the theft of Australia, the author gives a vivid panoramic view of the geography of Australia and the lifestyle of its European settlers.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tour of force 3 Jan 2008
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Literary historian Sven Linqvist was introduced to Australia at a young age. An 1896 book described how white European invaders viewed and treated the Aborigines. The story depicted a trio of young European boys encountering a group of Aborigines at a meal. Tucked away in a deep cavern, which to the boys meant the Aborigines couldn't have hunted the meal, the boys immediately concluded the group was engaging in cannibalism. The result was inevitable, the boys opened fire with their carbines, wiping out the "natives". For Lindqvist, it launched a train of thought he pursued years later. Journeying around and through Australia, he brought in his swag a background of European literature dealing with "primitive" peoples. In this vivid account, he takes us on both a geographic and a sociological tour of Australia's historical dealings with its indigenous population. At each stopping point, he relates what occurred to the Aboriginal occupiers there. It's not a pretty story.

The Aborigines were the focus of a good many early ethnographic scholars, almost none of whom set foot on the southern continent. Emile Durkheim, Sigmund Freud, Bronislaw Malinovski, among others, read a few accounts of missionary or other observers to draw novel, if still Euro-centric, ideas of what Aborigine social structure was like and what it meant for human history. The common theme was that primitive societies represented a step on the way to "civilisation". According to Lindqvist, these scholars were uniformly incorrect. Instead of family, clan or even religion binding Aborigine society, it was the land they occupied.
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