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The annual                        JOHN MANSFIELD LECTURE

THE 2018 JOHN MANSFIELD LECTURE presented by the School of Law

Research and the Law: Native Title and the Rescuing of History

Professor Peter Sutton, Honorary Research Associate

Thursday 30 August, Allan Scott Auditorium, UniSA City West Campus

To view the lecture click here, to view the transcript click here, to view the PowerPoint presentation click here

Following the success of The Inaugural John Mansfield Lecture in 2017 the School of Law will host the second in this annual lecture series. The John Mansfield Lecture was established to recognise the significant contributions to law and justice in Australia by the Honourable John Mansfield AM QC, expert in Native Title jurisprudence, Competition Law and former Justice of the federal Court.

Native title is one of those arenas where scholarly research and legal practice coincide, and sometimes collide. The Court and the expert can often be working from rather different scripts when it comes to the way they each construct and interpret a body of evidence. Although it is repeatedly said that the most important evidence in such cases is that of the Indigenous lay witnesses, the outcomes of cases are likely to rest on a pretty equal representation of both lay and expert evidence, and at times, may hinge heavily on the Court picking winners and losers among the experts. Disaster strikes when Courts try to be anthropologists.

In almost every native title case extensive scholarly research is undertaken, at least in the disciplines of history and anthropology, and sometimes also in linguistics and archaeology. Unfortunately, this usually takes place after a claim has been lodged through solicitors, sometimes clumsily. Whether claimants are successful or not, the native title research done on family trees, group histories, the traditional laws and customs of the claimants’ ancestors, and contemporary claimant relations with the claimed land and waters, remains as a major corrective to the lack of access to details of the past for each group. They are no longer ‘a people without history’.

 Professor Peter Sutton

Professor Peter SuttonPeter Sutton is one of Australia’s foremost applied anthropologists and linguists with a career that is as remarkable as it is unconventional. Beginning as a classic academic in 1969 documenting languages and cultures of far north Queensland, Peter soon transitioned into applied work. Since 1979 he has worked on more than 50 land claims across the country including the Wik claim which ushered in the era of the substantial anthropological contribution to native title claims. Applied anthropologists have received their fair share of criticism from their purely academic colleagues and while seeking to bridge this divide through his work in both arenas (his current positions at both Adelaide University and the SA Museum reflect this drive), Peter has not shied away from controversy. His discursive ruminations on the state of remote Aboriginal communities and the impact of government policies on Aboriginal lives in The Politics of Suffering (2010) caused a remarkable backlash from many in the academy, generating a level of hostility unusual even for the contentious space of Aboriginal Affairs. Meanwhile his technical volume Native Title Anthropology (2003) was recently described as “essential reading for anthropologists seeking to model systems of tenure for claims” (Morton 2017). Peter has authored dozens of articles and authored / edited / co-authored numerous books on Aboriginal languages, art, and territorial organisation. Whether it is his forensic reports in the various land rights jurisdictions, descriptive linguistics, museum anthropology, academic articles or public policy contributions, Peter’s remarkable depth of experience allows him to enrich any argument and his meticulous attention to detail ensures his information is always well presented. So even if some may not always agree with everything he has to say, Peter’s contributions are always worth paying attention to.   

The Hon John Mansfield AM QC

John MansfieldThe Hon John Mansfield AM QC has had a distinguished legal career and one which has demonstrated a strong sense of service and commitment to the law and wider community. His judicial work in the areas of Native Title and Competition Law are highly regarded and his many judgments are considered to have contributed significantly to both areas of law.

Serving as a Judge to the Federal Court of Australia for almost 20 years and becoming involved in a number of boards and committees throughout his career, his leadership was recognised in 2009 at the Queen’s Birthday Honours where he was made a Member of the Order of Australia.


Past Events


In his lecture on 17 August 2017, the Hon John Mansfield explored the substantive procedural effectiveness of the Native Title Act 1993 to date. To view the lecture click here. To read His Honour's speech click here.