This chapter examines the meaning of the phrase “Debatable Land.” Early maps showing aboriginal tribal divisions describe “Debatable Land” as either land that no one had laid claim to or land whose ownership was disputed. Either way, it was land that had not been settled. Whether the Aborigines saw it in this light is extremely doubtful: the phrase “Debatable Land” refers not so much to aboriginal beliefs, as to certain assumptions of their white interrogators. Implicit in the question, to whom does this land belong, are territorial notions possibly incomprehensible to those questioned. The phrase also reminds us that the process of settlement was not a laconic replacement of one culture by another, a simple, physical “taming” of the land, but a process of teaching the country to speak.
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