Shifting Ground: Context and Change in Two Australian Legal Systems

Abstract
Indigenous land claims in Australia havebrought Indigenous law into contact with theAustralian common law, changing some of theterms of each of these systems of law. Bytracing these contacts back to one of the firstengagements, when the Yolngu people of northernAustralia framed a petition to parliament inpictorial descriptions of their law, I explorethe means by which changes have occurred. Thisis characterised as a process of mutualframings and re-framings.The delicate and contentious issue ofmeaning change in Yolngu law and in Australiancommon law's dealings with Indigenous law isexamined in order to illuminate the ways inwhich meaning change may be understood in anepistemological and semiotic framework.The most recent common law decisions inland claims have begun to recognise a mutualrelationship between common law and Indigenouslaw. This has occurred most notably at theedges of western law's epistemologicalpractice, in its dealings with historical andIndigenous sources. The success of Yolnguepistemological and legal engagement with thedominant Australian society and its lawsuggests a means of understanding some of theways in which meaning may change in response tochanging contexts. This relationship can beseen through Yolngu categories of ``inside'' and``outside'', or in terms of the cultural contextof semiotic interpretation. Meanings maychange within each frame, not through thesimple incorporation or adoption of ``outside''concepts, but through shifts in the broadercontext of meaning
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DOI 10.1023/A:1015000128505
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