Reimagining Northern Seascapes in Australia: Open Access, Common Property and the Return of Responsibility?

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"This paper focuses on the reimagining of sea space in Australia. It considers the distinctive ways in which rights are related to responsibilities in the common property regimes of indigenous Australia and contrasts these with the predominantly private property regimes introduced by a colonising culture. The growing insistence by indigenous coastal groups on their right to take primary responsibility for inherited marine common property domains along the coast is different to, but reconcilable with, a sense of responsibility among non-indigenous groupings. It is argued that each can make a unique contribution to a re-formed Australian identity and a reimagined marine space, one which respects the previously unacknowledged contribution of indigenous groupings to the management and care of their land-sea homelands. A crucial step in reimagining sea space is the exploration of how the dominant conception of coastal marine space as an 'open access' area for all Australians rendered customary marine tenures invisible, how this construction of marine space emerged historically in Europe in the transformation of land ownership from joint or common property to absolute individual ownership, and the association of the latter with 'free riding' individualism. The experiences and perspectives of indigenous communities on the northern coasts, related in this paper, their interrelations with other groupings, are informed and strengthened by a larger context which differentiates contrasting 'cultures of owning.' A necessarily widely focused and historical exploration seeks to reveal how the naturalisation of the dominant construction of marine space has precluded serious consideration of the positive contribution indigenous groupings embedded in common property situations may make towards responsible and non-exploitative practices. In the difficult and long passage ahead, the process of re-forming Australian identity may draw inspiration as well as practical expertise from those with different ways of going about conserving landscapes and seascapes for coming generations."
IASC, water resources, coastal regions, common pool resources, Aborigines, indigenous institutions, land tenure and use, open access